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Location, Location, Location (or just 'Location' as it shall henceforth be referred to in order to stave off RSI) is a perfect example of a show that has finally found its' raison d'etre (or 'raisin deter' as my spell check is trying to insist!).
When it was just pure, unadulterated property porn it was something I'd stick cocktail sticks in my eyes to avoid watching. Why? Well...where to begin?
Firstly, there's something just excruciatingly self-satisfied about the 'wholesome' toothy twosome of Kirsty and Phil. The way they could hardly stop themselves from gurning wildly into the camera and the squirming sense of self satisfaction they exuded, induced by the knowledge of just how clever they were. "Look", they seemed to be saying, "You're all plebs and couldn't possibly know anything about something as complicated as finding somewhere to live. We're incredibly posh and have made oodles of money from speculating with the old trust fund, so why don't you let us show you how it's done?"
Then there were the ghastly people who they chose to drag around Bristol or Newcastle or whichever town they chose to Blitzkrieg with their smugness that particular week. Nobody ever wanted to buy the houses they saw of course...in fact I can't recall a single transaction take place on the odd occasion I watched. No, the real reason they were there was to; a) get their faces on the telly, a primary objective of any vacuous wannabe yuppie, and b) tell the world that they had two gazillion pounds to spend on a loft conversion in Walthamstow.
But mostly I think I hated this programme because it helped to ramp up the property market, which in turn artificially inflated the economy and fed the avarice and stupidity of the banks and their poor, misguided deluded customers who rushed headlong over the cliffs into the pit of debt in search of the dream. The dream that Kirsty and Phil promised could be theirs as they beckoned them in and led them by the hand around a succession of tacky terraces and sickly semis.
Ah yes...the 'credit crunch'. Or 'downturn' or 'recession' or whatever you want to call it. Don't look so clever now Phil and Kirsty do you?
But here is where we come to the reason why it's now fun to tune in. You see, the world's going to Hell in a handcart but the producers just can't stop churning this stuff out because they don't know what else to do. So now we can see the sweat on their brows as they try desperately...oh so desperately to persuade some poor sap that this might actually be a good time to chain himself to a five hundred year mortgage for a two-up two-down. And sometimes I swear you can actually see a flicker of fear through the painted on grins as if they're both aware that at any time they're about to be rumbled for the charlatans they are. They rode the bandwagon when the living was high, and now that it's out of control and hurtling downhill fast, they just can't get off because they don't know anything else. The sense of schadenfreude is just delicious.
And now Kirsty has dumped Phil to tell us all how to beat the credit crunch she actually helped to create by teaching us to knit our own jam, or whittle an oven.
So yes, now is the time to watch this god-awful show, in order to wallow in how stupid the gruesome twosome look still peddling a message that left town a long time ago.
So now we're a little way into the second series of 'Californication' on terrestrial TV here in the UK, I think the time has come to set aside the benefit of the doubt and pass judgement.
Yes I know this is review appears in the first series section, but there are at least two good reasons for that:
a) A little bit of context; a wise man once said you can't know where you are unless you know where you come from.
b) Have you seen how long it takes to get a new topic accepted for review round here?
So here's the bad news. I'm afraid that in series two, 'Californication' has definitely jumped the shark. For those who don't know, jumping the shark is a phrase popularly used in television circles when referring to a show has come to the end of its' natural days and it's time to switch off the life support system. This comes from the old US show 'Happy Days', in an episode where a character called The Fonze, for some unfathomable reason had to make a motorbike leap over a shark tank. The setup was so preposterous and such a contrived attempt to maintain interest in a format that was clearly wheezing its' last breath that it instantly passed into legend. 'Jumping the shark' therefore is that moment when you realise that the old magic has gone, and the writer/ director/ actors are thrashing wildly around in search of something...anything that will revive interest.
That it's come so soon into this shows' lifespan is something of a surprise. Over twenty four episodes of series one, it delivered consistently sharp scripts peppered liberally with genuinely funny one liners delivered by characters with whom you felt a real sense of affiliation. (This is the bit about knowing where you've come from by the way).
David Duchovny plays Hank, a once wildly successful writer who earned a fistful of royalties when his most celebrated book was turned into a dire Hollwoodized film. He hates what the film factory did to his book only marginally less than he hates himself for throwing away his long term relationship with Karen (Natascha McElhone) and their daughter Rebecca because of his tendency to frequently dabble in drugs, alcohol and a succession of meaningless one night stands. The only way he can find apparent solace is to indulge in yet more drugs, alcohol and meaningless one night stands. Cue some of the most permissive, yet consistently funny scenes yet seen on mainstream TV. The first series charted his attempt to win back his ex and daughter; an endeavour apparently doomed from the outset. An ensemble cast of support characters fluttered in and out of episodes and played their parts in delivering engaging and entertaining scenarios. The series finished on a high that left you wondering where they could go from there. Well, I'm afraid the answer is downhill.
I'm not sure if I can readily pinpoint one single 'shark leaping' moment. Maybe it was the 'hilarious' moment when Hank engaged in a sex act with the wrong woman at a party because he left the bathroom through a different door, leading him to a different bedroom, where it was dark and another young lady who wasn't his partner just happened to be lying waiting in a state of undress for her partner, who at that very moment was in search of prophylactics. (Confused?) That sort of setup wouldn't have even been believable in 'Carry on Matron'.
Or perhaps it was the time when his agent, having invested all of his money in an epic porn film makeover of Chinatown, on visiting the set and discovering the leading man was unable to 'perform', was apparently the only suitable candidate to act as his 'stunt double'. (Yeah...hilarious!).
It could be the way Hank casually befriended a fading rock star, leading to yet more high octane high jinks. Or the way he walks into a bar looking unwashed, uninterested and hung over, only to be instantly hit on by an unfeasibly attractive young woman for the twenty seventh time. (I've been to LA by the way and I can personally testify that never happens...ever!). Or the way that he undergoes a painful vasectomy only to be hit in the gentleman's area later in the episode. (Who saw that coming?).
It could be any of these and numerous more, but the painful fact is that standards have dropped like a politician's credibility. Even worse; the cast seem to know this too and often look like their hearts just aren't in it. The acting in the scene where Hank's agent and his wife turn up stoned at a dinner party is some of the worst you'll see this side of Hollyoaks.
My advice: Buy the DVD of series one, enjoy it for what it is (the ending seems natural and final anyway) and then forget that they even considered making series two.
Motorbike for Mr Duchovny.
Just finished the complete 5 seasons of The Wire on DVD and cannot, really cannot recommend this too highly.
I watched the first five episodes of series 1 when BBC2 aired them late at night recently and was immediately hooked. I'd heard good things about The Wire for years, but not having satellite or cable was unable to see it for myself. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the best way to view the series is undoubtedly via several binge size viewings on DVD, thus dispensing with the inconvenience of having to wait a whole week for your next hit. And believe me, 3 or 4 episodes in you'll be twitching like a hopeless junkie desperate for another fix.
The Wire is not just another cop show; don't make the mistake of dismissing it on that basis. It's a vast, sprawling, multi-layered almost Baroque epic that goes deep under the skin of a city (Baltimore). So deep, in fact that by the time you've watched all 5 series you really will believe you know the city and it's characters as well as if you'd lived your life there, and may even be in danger of occasionally slipping into Baltimorean argot. Tru dat!
The writers and creators between them spent years working in the police force, press and schools of the city so have a pretty good handle on what they're talking about.
Each series centres on a different aspect of Baltimore life, so drug dealers, dock workers, politicians, schools and the press respectively take their turn in the spotlight. Woven through the entire epic however, is a central core of characters who drive the narrative. The quality of writing and acting is such that it's impossible not to engage with them, care about them and really feel you know something about them. Key to this I think is that most characters are in some ways flawed. You feel like you have been credited with the intelligence to understand that in real life people don't just wear black hats or white hats. In real we all carry around inside us multiple shades of grey.
So it is with The Wire. Some of the 'good guys' are a little bit, often more than a little bit bad, whilst some of the 'bad guys' possess enough redeeming features to ensure that as each episode progresses the boundaries become well and truly blurred.
This is an emotional, but ultimately an incredibly rewarding journey. You finish the trip genuinely feeling that you know more not only about Baltimore, but about human nature and life in general.
The Wire has been described as a 'visual novel', and I'd say that's pretty much on the mark. It's certainly Dickensian in its scale, ambition and beautifully realised cast of characters.
Right now you can pick up the entire set for a discounted £85 on Amazon.
Could be the best money you ever spend.
Now that the hangover is subsiding and events can be viewed in the cold light of day, I can look back at the Oasis gig last night at Sunderland with something like objectivity. And I'm happy to report that rumours of the Gallagher boys' demise as a serious force have been greatly exaggerated!
I'm sure there couldn't have been many of the 50,000 or so who streamed out of The Stadium of Light in the steady drizzle who were in any way disappointed.
Thankfully the rain stayed away for most of the day, allowing our company and several thousand others to descend on the watering holes of Sunderland. The local pubs could rarely, if ever had so profitable a Wednesday afternoon. So much so that we gave up on attempting to manhandle our way to the bar at one pub and instead sat in the beer garden with carrier bags full from the local offie. A tactic, I noticed replicated by many around us. This was important; as any connoisseur will tell you, the correct level of alcohol is vital to the enjoyment of the concert going experience.
Anyway, to the gig itself: I can think of no other band in the modern era with a sound more suited to the stadium atmosphere. By the time the boys took the stage and the tech guys had tuned things up during the warm up bands sessions, the levels appeared pitch perfect.
Straight into Rock 'n Roll Star and the crowd were hooked. From thereon in it was full throttle through a perfectly delivered set. Age certainly seems to be mellowing Liam as well as slightly maturing his voice, as there were no signs of any past bad boy histrionics or sibling warfare, just the memorable Manc drawl that, though certainly not beautiful or classic, just sits so well with Noel's guitar driven compositions. Fair enough, things did seem to dip ever so slightly during the, shall we say "less well regarded" numbers from later albums, but there were enough of the old favourites here to keep the assembled more than happy. "Cigarettes and Alcohol", "Slide Away", "What's the Story Morning Glory", "Live forever" and "Champagne Supernova" were the soundtrack to a certain part of mine, and I'm sure countless other's lives. To see and hear them played live to a crowd of this size was beyond memorable.
Stand out track of the night for me though was "Masterplan", a song that just seems to keep on growing in stature every time I hear it. It was sung word perfectly by almost everyone in the audience and perfectly encapsulated the ethos and attitude of the night.
"Say it loud and sing it proud and they...
Will dance if they want to dance"
Nights like this don't happen often enough. In days when weak, ring tone inspired download pap passes for music, we need Oasis more than they need us. Come back soon boys, come back soon.
To paraphrase the late, great Grouch Marx; I had a wonderful stay in a first class hotel...but this wasn't it!
Two nights in an atmospheric 17th Century coaching Inn in a tranquil Northumbrian market town sounds like just the ticket to unfurl the knotted brow and loosen the Gordian knots of tension in the shoulders. Unless that hotel is The Queen's Head in Morpeth, which just happens to be slap bang above the most god-awful nightclub either side of Hadrian's Wall.
We stayed on a Friday and Saturday night...Friday and Saturday night being the traditional choice for a weekend away falling, as they usually do, at the end of the working week. Unfortunately Friday and Saturday night also appears to be the time when the volume is turned up to 11 in "Vinyl", the nightclub in question. No doubt to serve as a siren call to the monosyllabic knuckle-scraping patrons who view conversation merely as an impediment to well established drinking and mating rituals.
Our room was on the second floor near to the rear of the hotel. Even through several sturdy layers of floors and walls however, the migraine inducing clamour from below kept us awake until almost two in the morning. It was the sort of rhythmic, repetitive rhythm and bass thump that was indiscernible in any way as music, but somehow managed to travel through the entire body from the bones to the hair and make any attempt at sleep impossible. Relief when the torture finally ended was short lived, as it was soon to be replaced for the next hour or so by the traditional chucking out time pastoral chorus of arguing, singing and vomiting, set amidst the merry tinkle of breaking glass.
Conversation at breakfast revealed that virtually every other guest appears to have partaken in the same sleep deprivation experiment. When this was mentioned to the receptionist, it was met with a resigned shrug and the cheery news that it would be even louder the following night...it being Saturday and all. And she wasn't wrong. By this time though, it was clear that the only way to achieve anything resembling sleep was to be thoroughly anaesthetised with the assistance of Mr Glen Fiddich.
This is truly a shame, as otherwise the Queen's Head has a lot to recommend it. Steeped in history with oak panels and sweeping staircases aplenty, Elizabethan décor, a decent breakfast cooked to order and value at sixty quid a room.
We heard rumours of the ghost of a long-dead lady said to wander the corridors at night, but alas never saw her...moved on in search of a good night's sleep I would imagine.
Do visit Morpeth. It's a gentile market town with good local shops and a superb Saturday Farmer's market. It also has the most picturesque riverside park with perfectly tended gardens. But don't stay at The Queen's Head. Unless you're a masochistic chronic insomniac, who enjoys the thrill of seeing your condition thrust upon every other paying guest.