Friday, 30 March 2012

Adventures In The Stream Trade. Part 3.

Hello. Here's the third part of our special four part series where I review stuff that can be found online. It's like I'm Adam West, the internet is Burgess Meredith, and both of us are intent on fighting each other to the bitter end. Who will win? Find out next time. Same bat time. Same bat channel. Dur-nur-nur-nur-nur-nur-nur-nur...

If you live in the UK there’s a strong chance you will never have heard of The River. A TV show that premiered on ABC in the States earlier this year, it boasts movie making legend Steven Spielberg as a producer and Hollywood’s favourite Israeli born profit making machine Orin Peli as its creator. Considered a hot prospect when pitched to the studios, ABC won a bidding war with NBC to secure the rights to screen it and in May 2011 they green lit the production of an eight episode first season to be added to their schedule in early 2012.

In an astonishing development however The River failed to find a home in the UK. Despite an ever increasing number of cable channels popping up on the TV guide like whack-a-moles (Gee Note: Celebrating unethical ways of dealing with pests since 1976 y’all), The River was seemingly deemed too expensive to be worth a shot. And so instead it is now available to viewers here in Blighty exclusively on iTunes, where it will cost you a princely sum of £10 to watch it from start to finish in standard definition on your computer screen.

(Gee Note: I wouldn’t advise it though. Outside of an incredible sequence in the pilot episode where some dude gets eaten by Flubber’s evil twin, The River is a bunch of irritating people stuck on a boat investigating mysteries that wouldn’t have made it in to even the weakest episodes of Scooby Doo. And when you consider that in Scooby Doo 9 times out of 10 the main antagonist turned out to be the caretaker wearing a wig, that’s a pretty damning indictment)

Now this is rather disturbing on a number of levels. Firstly, because British television is incapable of making anything other than period dramas, we rely quite heavily on American genre shows to fill the void. And despite the fact that The River hasn’t exactly been met with universal critical acclaim across the pond, the team of Spielberg and Peli should have been more than enough to attract any broadcaster looking to plump up their autumn line-up a little bit. But despite that, no one in Britain took the bait. Which means that, no matter how attractive the package, UK channels are no longer in the market for new imports without an established audience. Which in turn means that cheaper alternatives will need to be found to occupy the airwaves. One of these will be repeats. Another will be non-scripted reality shows that can be made for next to nothing.

Shows like Our Psychic Family, for example.

Our Psychic Family is the study of the Hamilton-Parkers who “are just like any other British family, except they’re all psychic” according to the opening voice over. The problem is of course, having lived in Britain all my life I can confirm that the Hamilton-Parkers are about as far removed from British families as the Addams Family are from American ones (Gee Note: By the way I originally wrote that as “the Manson Family” and not “the Addams Family”. But then I found a video of Ted Cassidy doing a song and dance routine in character as Lurch and, well, I couldn’t in all good conscience not include it here for you.

See? The sacrifices I make for you guys. And do you ever send me a fruit basket as a thank you? No. No you don’t. I don’t know why I bother sometimes).

Instead the Hamilton-Parkers consist of patriarch Craig (Gee Note: An incredibly dull man who is trying to spice up his image by growing out a mullet, in spite of a rapidly receding hairline. As a result he looks a bit like Terry Nutkins but without the sex appeal. Think about that), mother Jane, elder daughter Celeste, and younger daughter Jack from Mass Effect Danielle. The premise is a simple one. A camera crew follow the family around on a day to day basis capturing the wacky world of the modern medium. Or at least that’s what I think they were going for. Alas the finished product never quite gets there. For a start Celeste has recently given birth to a baby boy and as such is scarcely around (Gee Note: A shame too, as amongst this bunch of basket cases she seemed to be the most sensible one. I know that’s a bit like being named “Prettiest jailbird in Ohio” but it’s better than nothing I suppose), while Danielle is too busy helping Commander Sheppard save the universe from The Reapers both slightly embarrassed by the whole "psychic" thing and about as charismatic as a trout with a lazy eye.

And so it’s up to Craig and Jane to carry the majority of the show, with a little help from their “Psychic Protégé” Nicholas, a camp Asian who has eyebrows so thick they could be used to scrub saucepans. In the opening episode entitled “Fated to Date” it appears Nicky’s main role is to bail the other two out when their clairvoyant powers fail them. As the show kicks off Craig performs a reading with a woman where he correctly guesses that her dad had a bad chest before he died and that she knows someone called “Jack”. But he starts to falter when he gets a bit too ambitious and it turns out her grandson doesn’t have an imaginary friend, nor does he enjoy football all that much. Thrown off his game Craig hands over to N to the Sizzle, who states “I sense that you’re not very happy in your job”, and like Mel Gibson after a PR disaster they’re back on the wagon. “Everything you’ve just said was a hundred per cent right” says the woman, completely forgetting that five minutes ago Papa Seer was clutching at straws so badly he may as well have been feeding a donkey. 

Jane follows this by holding a session with a mother and daughter looking to contact their son/brother who took his own life. Well versed in the art of saying nothing and making it sound impressive Jane mentions the young man owning a hoodie which bowls over the two guests. (Gee Note: I know right? Imagine predicting that someone under 20 would own a hoodie. I nearly fell off my chair!). She then says a lot of stuff about how sorry he is that he committed suicide and how he now realises it was selfish, which gets the two women welling up. This time around Nicholas is a wee bit less spectacular, mentioning that he feels the man in question was under a “lot of stress” (Gee Note: Wow. A suicidal person suffering from stress? I’ve never heard the like. I’m surprised he didn’t go all the way and say “they also had a touch of the gloomies” as well). Still despite being fed an A-Grade line in bullshit Barnum statements, the women leave singing the praises of the Hamilton-Parkers.

I have to admit at this point my patience was wearing thin. Rather than the knockabout Osbournes-esque farce where crazy characters talk to dead people over an afternoon cup of tea I had been expecting, Our Psychic Family comes across as an extended advert for the Hamilton-Parkers’ private practice. The problem is that, on this evidence, they’re not actually all that good at what they do. There’s no stand out moment where you think that they have legitimately contacted the spirit world, largely because there’s nothing that either Craig or Jane come up with that couldn’t have been achieved by even the most incompetent mentalist. So disheartening was this programme that I was ready to turn the whole thing off and find something else more important to do after about ten minutes. Like making a cloak out of an old curtain so I could pretend to be a super-villain who terrifies people with unusually large vegetables. Stuff like that.

So thank the maker above for Johnny.

The Hamilton-Parkers next project is to hold a special dating night in a bar in London. A group of singles get together and are paired off by Craig and Jane using their psychic powers to match those who are most suited to each other. One of these dateless wonders is the aforementioned Johnny. Hailing from “somewhere posh” according to the subtitle (Gee Note: Research is overrated anyway), and looking like a cross between Tim Vine and Boris Johnson (Gee Note: Phoooawrr. Am I right ladies?), the J man isn’t one of those desperate losers who can’t get a female companion for love nor money. No way Jose. The reason why Johnny is still on the market is because he is too selective. According to the man himself, "The kind of girls I normally go for are tall, brunette, slim," he says in a plummy voice "with nipples I can see coming through the t-shirt”.

And with that one sentence Johnny became the best thing I have ever seen on television.

Obviously feeling he was on a roll, Johnny followed this up with some dating advice for the men out there. “I value good breeding which you don’t often find. A good lineage like a horse or a greyhound. People, dogs and horses are very similar I find. You’ve got to look at the pedigree”. By the time he’d finished I was begging the producers to abandon this silly idea of a family of psychics and instead follow Johnny around on blind dates as he gets a variety of drinks thrown over him. Seriously, I’d watch that show every night. I’d tell my friends to watch that show every night. I’d drunk dial random strangers late at night and berate them for not watching it. Bottom line is THIS MAN NEEDS HIS OWN SHOW. He certainly saved this one, as after that point I couldn’t turn away for a second less I miss more Johnny awesomeness.

Sadly more Johnny was apparently not on the menu that night. What followed was five minutes of sheer tedium as the production team checked in with the awkward couples as they forced small talk. One fella forgets to bring his date cutlery. Another attempts to win over his voluntary hostage with lame jokes (Gee Note: Exactly like one of my dates. Except without the rope. And the bolt cutters. And the crying.) Unsurprisingly, despite Craig and Jane sitting at the bar with self-satisfied smirks, only one of the couples agree to see each other again. With the rest it appears the guys are keen, while the women are about as interested as Paris Hilton would be in the history of cement between 1834 and 1902.

Saving the best till last we finally get a comment from Johnny who appears to have made the best out of a bad situation. “I had a bit of a squint around and I didn’t see any tall, well formed, brunettes with really good figures. And as soon as I didn’t see that I realised I had to lower my bar a little bit. If I had my beer goggles on I think I’d definitely reprioritise”. I had to rewind that three times to work out if that meant he had enjoyed himself or not. I’m still not sure.

And then it ended. Now I’ll be honest with you, I felt quite empty inside after it was all said and done. Partly because I knew I’d never see Johnny on my television ever again. But mostly because Our Psychic Family had failed to connect with me in even the most basic ways. I wasn’t amused by people pretending to be all Haley Joel Osment seeing dead people. I wasn’t angered by the sheer cheek of them charging people money for this rag tag, bargain basement, mind reading schtick. I didn’t care that I’d just been subjected to the worst parade of haircuts this side of the 1980’s. Instead it felt like I’d just spent 23 minutes in the television equivalent of a void in space.

Still, if the fate of The River is anything to go by, those of us in the UK should try and get used to this type of thing. After all, this time next year there’s a good chance we’ll be balls deep in shows like Our Psychic Family.

Yeah. I agree. It does suck when you think about it.

Our Psychic Family is available online to both Virgin Media and Sky customers. If you aren't a customer of either of those then watch this instead. Trust me. It will rock your socks.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Adventures In The Stream Trade. Part 2.

Hello. Here's the second part of our special four part series where I review stuff that can be found online. You could say I watch the stuff you don't want to. You could also say "Wow. That Gareth Davies is like a hero or a ninja". Both of which would be completely true.

The big controversy coming out of the 84th Academy Awards wasn’t that The Tree Of Life got nominated for Best Picture (Gee Note: Let’s face it, at this point Terrence Malik could film himself farting in to a cardboard box for two hours and the critics would hail it as a post-modern masterpiece), nor that Gary Oldman didn’t win Best Actor. It wasn’t even that Bret Ratner uses the odd gay slur here and there. No siree, the real scandal involved British one joke wonder Sacha Baron Cohen. In an effort to promote his new movie The Dictator, Baron Cohen had announced he would be arriving at the awards in character as Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen. Fearing something untoward was about to take place the producers of the show threatened to revoke Baron Cohen’s tickets to the event, and only relented when he promised that no disruptions would occur. A deal was therefore struck where Sacha would arrive in his Dictator costume, do some interviews on the red carpet, before changing in to his tuxedo in a specially arranged dressing room and performing a skit during the main broadcast.

So of course, Sacha being Sacha, he rocked up to the Oscars red carpet and did this.


Except it’s not. Not really. Sure if this was 1995 then it might raise a giggle. But shock humour like that just doesn’t have the same impact it used to. We’ve seen it all before, from Dennis Pennis harassing Kevin Costner to Little Ant & Dec asking Sarah Michelle Geller if she ever got sick of Freddie Prinze Jnr. Instead this comes across as a desperate plea for attention. Look at me. Look how zany I am. I’m dumping pancake mix all over Ryan Seacrest. Aren’t I kerrr-azy? Look at me. Please. Please will you look at me?

Now had this been in another era then Baron Cohen’s ass would have been shown the door quicker than you could say “Oh sweet Jesus. Billy Crystal is doing his Sammy Davis Jnr impersonation again. Guy's been dead for 22 years. Why does he keep doing this?”. But the Oscars are very much a wounded beast, scared of becoming even less relevant than they already are. After a couple of disastrous years where viewers have been subjected to Hugh Jackman’s one man musical theatre show and James Franco stoned off his box , the Academy Awards are desperate for anything that might strike a chord with the audience. And as the artist formerly known as Bruno seems rather popular with masses, he was escorted directly to his dressing room where producers expected him get changed and carry out the rest of the plan as normal. Well Sacha did get changed, but then promptly did a bunk to the Vanity Fair viewing party and ditched the main show all together.

So how did the Oscar hierarchy react to Baron Cohen’s blatant snub? They pretty much held their hands up with a smile and said “That’s our Sacha!”. Not a single word of criticism or condemnation escaped their lips, ensuring that short of climbing up the balcony, taking out his tackle, and weeing all over Angelina Jolie, Borat can do whatever he likes and get invited back time after time.

Compare that to Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd doesn’t get invited to the Oscars anymore. Now that’s not because he’s a grown man with the mental age of a spoilt teenager like Baron Cohen. Nor is it because he had a meltdown on stage involving several n-bombs like Michael Richards. He didn’t even rape a 13 girl like Roman Polanski did. Oh no my friends. Aykroyd’s crimes are much worse than that. He committed the most heinous act one can in Hollywood. Dan Aykroyd simply stopped being popular.

And it wasn’t just the Oscars that gave up on poor Dan. Hollywood itself shrugged its shoulders and walked away. Despite making approximately a film a year since 2001 Aykroyd has only received top billing on one of those, a Canadian comedy called White Coats that was so awful no respected movie critic bothered to watch it. Maybe that’s a good thing though, as since 1998 almost every single motion picture Aykroyd has appeared in has been met with the same reception Chris Brown would get in a women’s shelter (Gee Note: Speaking of which, I mean not really but keep up, have you ever tried reading Rihanna’s twitter feed? It’s just occasional random thoughts and words that don’t go together. Like playing an advanced game of Boggle with a telepath. Or “BogglePath” as it will be called in the future when humankind has developed mind powers due to radiation and stuff. I’ve read comic books, I know the score here). Bear in mind this man created Ghostbusters. And The Blue Brothers. And wiped the floor with John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank. And was nominated for an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy. And yet somehow he can’t get his name above the title for a movie about Britney Spears finding herself by writing f***ing awful poetry.

Which is probably the reason Dan has decided to diversify himself as a business man. One of his projects is an alcoholic beverage that… well… look I’m not going to even bother trying to explain this. Here’s a video instead.

(Gee Note: Crystal Skull Vodka. For those of you who enjoy both a drink and scaring the bejesus out of the family dog. Also is it just me or does Phil Powers look terrified when the camera cuts to him? Poor man. Aykroyd must be a horrible guy to work for. “BAH!! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!? YOU PROMISED ME THE PUREST VODKA AROUND!!! DO I HAVE TO START BEATING YOU AGAIN POWERS???” “No Mr. Aykroyd sir. Please sir. We’ve filtered it three times now sir. There’s nothing else we can do.” “WELL THEN FILTER IT AGAIN YOU MORON!!! BUT THIS TIME DO IT THROUGH DIAMONDS. YES. THAT’S IT. DIAMONDS. CLASS THAT SHIT UP A BIT!!!” “But sir I really don’t see how dia…” “ARE YOU QUESTIONING ME POWERS?!?!?!” “No sir. Not at all. Diamonds it is. I’ll get right on it.” “EXCELLENT. NOW… GO MAKE ME A SANDWICH”).

Another project of Aykroyd’s during his down period is Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs. A documentary directed by David Sereda it was initially released on DVD before, like a Z-list celebrity sex tape, it found its way online.

So of course I had to watch it.

I’ll be honest with you though. I don’t know quite what to make of it. For a start there’s probably more video footage of alleged UFO sightings contained within this documentary than you’re likely to find anywhere else. Of course most of it is “grainy, hand-held camera, could be an alien spaceship, could be a large bird lighting up a smoke” kind of stuff. But every once in a while Sereda throws in something genuinely intriguing, such as recordings from NASA appearing to show objects in space defying the laws of physics. These are coupled with sound bites from various witnesses and experts, including Stephen Basset, Paul Hellyer, and Gordon Cooper. In fact the Cooper material is arguably the most fascinating. A former astronaut, test pilot, and Colonel of the United States Air Force, Gordon’s testimony about being outmanoeuvred by “strange saucer looking vehicles” is probably the finest achievement of this feature.

But, frustratingly, all that is relegated to 10 second filler pieces here and there. Because this documentary is about one thing, and one thing only. And no, it’s not about UFOs. Stop being silly. This documentary is all about how brilliant Dan Aykroyd is.

Right from the off we’re told of how in awe Sereda is of his subject. During David’s opening voice over he states “One time I had this long conversation with Dan Aykroyd about UFOs, and I thought it was like Einstein was hiding inside of a comic genius so that if he told us the real truth you wouldn’t have to believe it. If Einstein had told us UFOs were real would you have believed him? He never spoke about it.”. (Gee Note: No really. That’s how it starts. A big bag full of boot licking. And yet it doesn’t make an ounce of sense. I mean I am the only one who doesn’t understand a word of that? What difference does it make if Einstein had an opinion about UFOs or not? It’s like saying “If Muhammad Ali told you that tickling the tummy of a kitten cures cancer, would you believe him?”. It’s a completely pointless statement. Also comparing Dan Aykroyd to Albert Einstein? Really? I’m surprised that Sereda didn’t also inform us how tight and firm Dan’s buttocks are, or how he once saved an entire orphanage from a fire by carrying all the children out of the burning building on his back, like a giant super tortoise).

The problem is though Aykroyd doesn’t look like a genius. He looks like Dan Aykroyd. Sure that’s not a bad thing (Gee Note: Although Dan is shot in such an extreme close up that you can clearly see the sweat glistening on his face. Either that or he spent that entire afternoon getting one lap dance after another and is now covered in glitter. Movie stars eh? Bloody spoilt they are). But as he chain smokes his way through 80 minutes of uneven UFO talk, at no point do you get the impression that Aykroyd has anything truly thought provoking to say on the subject. Partly because Sereda does such a piss poor job of feeding Aykroyd questions to answer that all they talk about are their vague theories on what Jack McSpaceman might be up to. For example, the blatantly obvious question “Dan, there’s a lot of skeptics out there who contend that UFOs can be reasonably explained as everyday natural occurrences. Is there a specific case from history you would point them to? If so, what would you say to them?” is never asked. Instead because Sereda believes in alien visitors from Jupiter so strongly, all objectivity is thrown completely out of the window.

So in place of something that could have been truly entertaining with Aykroyd passionately arguing the case for the existence of UFOs, we’re instead treated to statements such as “It’s important that some branches of the military and the police be briefed on those and told they are real, people are being abducted, there’s mind control at play here. And that we have to be vigilant”. Which led to me shouting at the top of my voice (Gee Note: So loudly I woke up the baby and the Future-Ex Mrs. Davies at the same time. That was a fun conversation let me tell you) “Why? Why do we have to be vigilant? What led you to that conclusion? WHERE DOES F***ING MIND CONTROL COME IN TO THIS? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”. There’s no context, no counterpoint, just an extended talking head interview with an ex-SNL cast member that in any other programme would have been edited down to two minutes tops. It’s like you’re forced to listen to a conversation between two people you don’t know, who never acknowledge your presence, about something you don’t necessarily agree with.

That’s not to say that Aykroyd doesn’t make some good points. When discussing a recent sighting in Mexico being explained by the authorities as swamp gas Dan says “I don’t know if swamps gas is capable of completing a complete circuit around an aircraft and then taking off at high speed”, and when talking about space travel “These beings have anything from a thousand to a million to ten million to a billion years advanced when it comes to technology”. But these are soon lost in a sea of pointless twaddle including “Who would Dan Aykroyd like to meet from history?” and “What would Dan Aykroyd say to an alien?”. (Gee Note: Seriously. I’m not making that up. Throw in a couple of cushions and a dog and we’ve got ourselves an OK! Magazine cover spread.)

And that’s the thing about Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs. It’s difficult to see who this is aimed at. UFO fanatics will already know about every event touched on here only in much greater detail. UFO skeptics will find nothing that will shatter their reality and make them think twice. The only people for who this could possibly hold interest are die hard Aykroyd superfans. And even then the over the top brown nosing to the Canadian funny man might be a touch too much (Gee Note: In the end credits it reads, and I swear to Sputnik this is true, “Starring Dan Aykroyd. In honour of his courage for bringing the UFO issue in to full public disclosure.”. Sigh. Look, he’s a dude who knows a lot about flying saucers. He’s not Ernie F***ing Pyle).

Especially when you consider that the moments of levity during this broadcast are practically non-existent. Sure Aykroyd speaks eloquently and at length, and he really does know his stuff when it comes to little green men. But all it is are his theories on what UFOs could be, and what could happen should aliens make contact with humans. Outside of one amazing story about Aykroyd’s Sci-Fi show Out There never airing because some shadowy men in black in an invisible car spiked it for getting too close to the truth (Gee Note: I… oh I don’t know. Although I’m pretty sure an invisible car would be against the Highway Code. You could probably report them for it. That would take them down a peg or two, the suit wearing bastards), Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs isn’t zany enough to be fun viewing, and isn’t challenging enough to be captivating.

And it’s a shame because Dan Aykroyd investigating alien abductions and sightings is actually a concept I can totally get on board with. But sadly in the end, no matter how sycophantic it is, Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs doesn’t do justice to either Dan Aykroyd or UFOs.

Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs can be found on the US version of Netflix. If you don't have access to that you can also view it on Google Video here. Or you can watch that video of the baby panda sneezing for the 698983726382380th time. That's the beauty of the internet. Multiple choice. Well that and porn.