The return of Runaround

Saturday morning used to be the preserve of kids television but these days it’s cooking programmes left, right and centre, which is the same with weekdays. Children’s TV is now relegated to designated channels but back in what feels like the distant past Back in the 1970s especially, children’s TV was an essential part of BBC and ITV’s programming and in some cases, ended up raising people. Many of those programmes though as lost to the modern world but sometimes they come back.

One of those is Runaround. Hosted by cheeky cockernee chappee MIke Reid it was an odd mix of raucous game show and pop bands of the day.

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Broadcast between 1975 and 1981 and this is an example of an average show.

Even though there was some attempts in later series to put in some educational content in the programme but nobody watched it for that. We watched it for the chaos and Mike Reid’s banter with the kids who he sometimes clearly despised in some episodes where he was probably hungover. As you can imagine, there’s no way this sort of programme would be allowed in 2020, but this is a product of the time and back then things were a tad rougher round the edges, and if anyone could work out the rules (which seemed to change weekly) then it’d make it even better.

Thought lost to time it has now returned on the splendid retro channel Talking Pictures each Saturday morning at 9am. For those of a certain age please jump on for some fun nostalgia, and for those too young for that make sure you see this amazing artifact of pop culture.

 

What I thought of Star Trek: Deep Space 9

One of the good things about barely leaving my flat since March is I’ve done a few things I wanted to do; one of which is rewatching Deep Space 9. When it was on I did, and didn’t watch it. I did watch most of the last couple of seasons on its first broadcast, but overall I couldn’t be bothered with it. It was the 90’s and catching up with programmes were a lot harder if you failed to set your video recorder.

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I loved The Next Generation. It started badly but became a firm favourite after a year or so of it being broadcast in the UK, but DS9 was another matter. It was broadcast at the time on Sky which meant if you didn’t have a subscription you missed it, so for most of the first season, I only caught the odd episode which I generally didn’t like. This is supposed to be Star Trek yet they’re sat around a space station talking about prophets with a load of dull characters.

Even when I did start watching it every week I wasn’t especially taken with it, so when it finished I filed it away but over the years the series has come in for serious praise, and friends have asked if I’ve ever sat down and watched the lot. I never really had the time til Covid made the time so back in March I started watching DS9 from the first episode. The first season is a slog as it tries hard not to be TNG, but at the same time it is restricted by the station setting however by the second season everything starts to settle down, and the bigger picture begins to unravel. Also the characters start to become interesting, especially Sisko who til then has been bland but becomes something else as this man still struggling with trauma, but starting to realise there’s something in the religion of Bajor, the planet at the heart of the series.

Then there’s Major Kira. There’s no way in modern American TV would you have a terrorist as a leading heroic character, but here’s DS9 doing just that while struggling with some of the things she did in her past. While the others started to round out, even O’Brian who’d been a minor role in TNG turned into a solid leading character and showed that there’s a class hierarchy in Starfleet.  By the time Worf comes on board in season 4 the series is in full flow and has become something more than just another Trek spin-off.

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But although it is ‘dark’, it also protects the optimism for a future where the human race is just better, so much so that they fight a long, two year way which costs the lives of millions to protect it.

In fact DS9 is one of the best bits of television drama made. Even though the idea of binge TV wasn’t around in the 90s, it’s a show made for it by accident at a time when episodic TV in America at least, still ruled. It’s a complex show that doesn’t overplay the dark as Discovery did or was just a rambling mess as Picard was, but it’s also clearly the show which influences modern TV Trek the most, yet the producers of these shows don’t understand that preserving that positive vision is Star Trek. Without it, it just becomes a space adventure series which you’ll flick past on Netflix.

DS9 showed you can find hope in the dark and Gene Roddenberry’s vision was more or less preserved and even developed as DS9 showed how ordinary people lived their lives in a society where science and culture have advanced beyond what we could ever expect today. By the end of binging on it, I felt as if I’d missed out on something great at the time, but if there’s anything good about Covid is it gives folk like me a chance to reassess things and in this case, discover something wonderful.

 

 

 

 

Alan Moore and Adam Curtis in conversation…

Alan Moore is a writer who helped change comics back in the 1980’s, and Adam Curtis is the UK’s finest documentarians while both skirt around the edge of mainstream culture to say the least. Below is a conversation between the pair from May 2018 which is a pretty absorbing listen, especially in light of the post Covid world where things are changing all over the place creating an even more uncertain world.

Spend an hour listening to this. It’ll be worth it.

Relive the 1980’s on MTV

The 1980’s is when the media landscape changed across the world, with the USA especially changing into a multi-channel future before much of the rest of the world. The channel which pretty much opened this new horizon for many was MTV, a channel which (and it isn’t hyperbole to say this) changed the world.

Many of you and I will have memories of MTV based upon late-night viewing sessions, whatever faded VHS tapes you might still have but really it’ll be what’s stuck up on YouTube. Well that changes now as someone has stuck a massive chunk of the channel’s output in the 1980’s up from the very first few hours through the 80’s and into the 1990’s. 

The sheer volume of material here is extraordinary, and this archive will keep anyone going so whether you want to see the first few hours after that first video by The Buggles, or Vincent Price introduce a Halloween special, or even all of Live Aid then dive in and be prepared to be lost for hours and hours.

What I thought of Star Trek: Picard

There’s a point in one of the final episodes of Star Trek: Picard where I’m sitting there looking at a gigantic space battle where I have no idea what’s going on as the screen was just full of stuff. It looked fine but there was no real weight behind the battle but the producers of Picard thought it best through this scene to show how much money had been spent on the production. That for me summed the series up but I get ahead of myself.

I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was (eventually) a smart, clever science fiction series that most of the time didn’t insult the viewer, plus it managed to present modern-day issues through the lens of Star Trek which is something it’s done since the very first episode which Gene Rodenberry made back in the 60’s. TNG was for many people, the defining SF series of their generation but the Next Generation crew had an awful send off with their last film, Nemesis, so the chance to have a great send-off for these characters, especially Picard, was one many of us grabbed with both hands.

The first trailers for Picard were great. They had maybe too much of an action focus but warning signs were there in the names of Akiva Goldsman and Alex Kurtzman.  Neither have an especially great record and neither seemed like they’d be involved with what many thought would be, a revival of TNG with that programme’s intellectual and moral core.

And for the first episode or two things were fine. There was a lovely, slow introspective pace that allowed Patrick Stewart to act his socks off as we were introduced to Picard 20 years after we’d last seen him trying to deal with his failures at the end of his life. The new characters were interesting, especially the Romulan couple working with Picard. Yes there was a little bit of action plus the Borg subplot seemed possibly distracting but on the whole, the first few episodes were great. But there were real issues. Starfleet seemed wrong. Less of a fleet of exploration but more military feeling while the paradise of the Federation was reduced to people holding racist beliefs. Now Star Trek has dealt with these things before, especially in the excellent Deep Space 9, but there was always a positive message that ultimately humanity could be better, even if there were one or two who fell from grace. Here so many humans have fell from grace with manufactured failures that it doesn’t feel that humanity has evolved into a better place.

The problems lie with heavily thrusting bad analogies for Brexit and Donald Trump into the programme which are then promptly dumped for a generic space adventure plot which ends up with Picard being surrounded by a bunch of unlikeable characters we don’t give a fuck about, plus Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine from Voyager who has had four years of a careful character arc wrecked to become a generic space adventurer and all that character work was just thrown aside.

The best episode outwith the first few is the Riker and Troi episode where again, things slow down, characters breathe, things develop but even then the producers inflict misery upon two characters for no reason than to add some ‘character development’. This is the problem, there’s no attempt to do anything but blunt development, which mixed with the urge to make the new characters ‘flawed’ leads to a mess. Then there’s the failure to develop Picard. Having a character like him confront his death in one last mission would have been interesting, but having him bleat like a lovelorn puppy to Data (who does actually get a good ending here) that he loves him. Then of course there’s giving Picard an android body so he can carry on, which the TNG Picard would have been horrified with but this isn’t the TNG Picard, this is the movie Picard.

It’s all a bit too forced. It’s all a bit too generic. It’s all too flashy. It doesn’t feel like Star Trek. It is missing a trick by falling on easy options rather than giving us a Star Trek unafraid to be intellectual, to be slow-paced and to force audiences to think. Instead it’s Generic Space Adventure with big dumb explosions and guns that go pewww.

I hope next season improves. With the delay in everything thanks to Covid19 there’s no excuses in having no time in developing the scripts but with Kurtzman at the helm again I’m not holding out much hope of an improvement.

 

What I thought of Doctor Who season 12

Jodie Whittaker’s first year as the Doctor was patchy at best, shite at worst. Not as bad as  Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, in the seventh season but bad so much was riding on this season. The main criticisms for me were an overcrowded Tardis, a Doctor barely allowed to develop regardless of how hard Jodie Whittaker grafted to make some awful scripts fly while the programme was directionless with new showrunner Chris Chibnall seemingly lost now he’d got his hands on his childhood love.

Then they all went away, had a think and came back this year with a bang with a two-part story which brought back a truly crazed version of The Master played by Sacha Dhawan channeling Anthony Ainley a lot of the time and then we had the return of Captain Jack and a totally new Doctor in the shape of Jo Martin which created plotholes and canon anguish for fans but it turns out Chibnall had a card up his sleeve.  For those of us of a certain age Tom Baker was our Doctor, and one of his, and the programme’s finest stories is the Brain of Morbius, a retelling of Frankenstein not to mention a serial which featured a lot of new lore for the series, including this.

For 44 years there’s been a running argument about who those faces are after the Hartnell Doctor, with some saying they’re previously unknown incarnations to some saying they’re the faces of Morbius or just it was something to lengthen the scene so they just took a load of pictures of the crew and slapped them in. Yet the dialogue makes it clear, ‘how long have you lived Doctor?’, and it really is a push to make these faces anything else but related to the Doctor so how does that work?

And after 44 years Chris Chibnall explained that (yes, they are previous incarnations of the Doctor) as well as tiny little plot points only the uber fanboy cared about. It was an audacious bit of housekeeping that made me laugh, yet I’m not sure it worked yet. I’ll have to watch it again however this entire season has been a vast improvement. Better scripts which gave Whitaker some work, plus the Tardis crew were less annoying. Sure, there were some awful scripts but overall things moved in the right direction even if Chibnall has now done a reboot and tie up plot points at the same time. Has it worked? I dunno, but it is getting people excited for the programme but I do wish it was just well-done stories of the Doctor’s travels rather than universe-altering plots every season.

Basically things are moving in the right direction. There’s still rubbish though Jodie Whitaker is turning into a very good Doctor, if she gets the scripts. Hopefully her third year sees that happen more consistantly.

I’m now off to watch that last episode again, just for a laugh!

The latest outrage against South Park

It is 2020. People are still blaming South Park for all the ills of the Western World. This time instead of the rabidly illiberal censorious right screaming about the show, it’s the rabidly illiberal censorious left in the shape of writer Dana Schwartz.

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There’s a series of Tweets, with above being her first, and the next being her last, but she’s ploughing a furrow dug often since the programme started in the late 90’s.

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The problem is her final message is wrong. Yes it is a very political show, but the message is that often there is nothing that can be done in terms of a simple, easy solution. The character of Kyle especially (often to be said to be the closest in terms of actual beliefs for the creators) pours out hard solutions but is mocked by others because people from the left and right don’t want complex answers but easy ones that fits their own worldview. Which is where Schwartz is as the show doesn’t fit her worldview so she threw out this attempt to basically ‘cancel’ it.

The problem is by blaming South Park from everything from the alt-right, to Trump to the current culture wars is that simple solution. An airy wave of the hand and all your problems are gone. Who needs to understand the socio-economic problems caused by the collapse of industry which has led to an alienated working class who feel isolated and ignored by all the traditional politics out there, hence why many are looking to outsiders for answers. Sadly that gives us Brexit and Trump partly because the left as a whole has advocated the discussion to the right in favour of purity spirals and identity politics rather than creating a narrative where the alienated working class see a way out.

So instead we’re stuck with people being offended by a show nearly 25 years old that’s attacked people from all political backgrounds and while it often misses a point, or gets it wrong, it serves a purpose as a satire of the times where anything is open for debate. Because you don’t like hearing what it has to say is not a reason to ‘cancel’ it, which makes me glad that Schwartz’s attempt to do just that fell flat but these attempts at censorship attack liberty itself, and sometimes liberty means people hearing or seeing things they don’t want to hear or see.

RIP Terry Jones

Back in the 1970’s I was but a wee boy, and like many folk back then, a Monty Python fan. When hearing that Michael Palin and Terry Jones had made their own series, Ripping Yarns, like many youthful fanboys I was aside myself and to this day I adore every single one of them but Golden Gordon is by far my favourite.

Palin and Jones were their own team within Python, and out of all the groupings that came out of Python these two were the best and the funniest because Palin was just a brilliant performer, while Jones timed the comedy in those episodes to perfection. They were very British, very English bits of humour that now, sadly, will be lost to people because the reference for these stories (pulp magazines and British boys comics) are not part of your average Millenial’s cultural wardrobe.

Jones was never the standout in Python for me when I was younger. It was John Cleese but as I got older and older I’d notice what Jones was doing as well as his sheer comic bravery in getting a laugh with this being one of my favourite Python sketches ever.

Something then dawned on me watching this for the 1000th time, in that if I imagine Python to have a voice, then it sounds like Terry Jones. Not Eric Idle, Cleese or anyone else. Even now if you’re riffing off Python then it’s his voice you’ll be using.

And then I started growing up, latching onto the alternatic comedy boom of the 80s which washed all before it, except for Terry Jones who stamped his approval upon things wonderfully.

And that was it. Jones was my favoutite Python which made his descent into dementia so horrible to see his mind go but his friends stood by him all the way. There’s a point if the DVD of the O2 shows from 2014 where Jones is clearly distressed and confused backstage, but all of them form a shield to protect and to encourage him. It’s a small, tiny moment but it shows you what he meant to his friends, and now, it’s a sad moment because we know this is him slipping away but still able to cling on thanks to his mates.

I’ll miss Jones. He was always fun, always entertaining and always it seems, right. Like everyone it seems I’ll miss knowing he’s not around to make the world that wee bit of a better place a lot.

What I thought of Crisis on Infinite Earths

Imagine trying to do Avengers: Endgame on a budget akin to Scarlet Johansen’s hairdresser? That’ll be the CW’s version of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s comic Crisis on Infinite Earths.

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A five-part series designed to partly clean up issues with the CW’s Arrowverse and to act as this year’s big crossover event to end all events. Overall it manages to just hold together, and just work though the problem as usual with the Arrowverse programmes is the budget holds back the ambition so what should be a cosmic level event (something Marvel have shied off adapting fully as yet) comes over as sometimes small, and in the case of episode two, slow and stretched.

The other problem is that when it needs action we get exposition, or worse, exposition from people standing round the set looking a bit stiff. However the producers clearly love the source material, and they clearly love what they’re doing so for all the multiple flaws they manage just about to live up to this fan made poster from a few years back.

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Crisis works because they realise the entire thing is daft, and they know that superhero comics are essentially melodramas so they embrace that, so we have all the usual aspects of a CW show mixed with these overaught moments of superhero comics, mixed with possibly the biggest, and first, comic book mega-crossover.

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They manage to tie every DC TV series to the Arrowverse bar Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman series and the Shazam! series from the 70’s due mainly to the reason that Warners have successful film versions but remarkably, everything else did make an appearance from the Titans, to Tom Welling from Smallville, Brandon Routh reprising his role as Superman which means the Christopher Reeve films are canon, through to the surprise cameo of Ezra Miller as the DC film version of The Flash.

I enjoyed the entire crossover a lot, with that Miller cameo especially making me like Miller’s depiction of my favourite superhero more than I did. Yeah, some of it is awful, cheap and badly acted/written at times but this is soap opera and it’s also great entertainment which has the good guys beating the baddies which in 2020 is a great message to send out.

My last fanboy wish would be they repay the cameo and bring in the TV Flash for the film due sometime in the next few years, but that can’t happen can it?

About the Crisis on Infinite Earths trailer

If there’s a single title in comics that encapsulates the massive cross-company event it is DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths published back in 1985. Sure there’d been crossovers before but nothing of this scale which rewrote what DC Comics was about. Now we have The CW attempting to do something similar with their DC television series, so a five-part crossover starts this weekend with Supergirl, then Batwoman and across all their series. They’ve been building this up for a year, and in tribute to the crossovers for the comic, there’s been something similar with the TV series.

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In short, they’re doing something that makes Marvel’s Infinity Saga seem like a church panto on the catering budget of the last Avengers film. Yet it looks fun as it ties in all the other DC adaptations over the decades while telling a story which is enough like Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s comic saga.

And this bring me to the trailer.  Soak it the various different Flash’s, Supermen and Batman, and wonder how this is going to be done in five hours of television.

 

We’ll find out in just a few days…