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.

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