Wednesday, January 14, 2009

TV Viewing Diary: all sorts

TOTP - There could have been no better litmus test of my cultural estrangement from the UK than the Christmas and New Year editions of Top of the Pops. It's an almost Einsteinian effect.... as if I am now resident on a plane of existence that is travelling at a different speed relative to Great Britain, such that popular culture there appears to belong to a quaintly different time and cultural space. How hard it is not to see most of the acts there performing as essentially parochial and silly. Could anyone anywhere else in the world watch Duffy or Elbow perform and not snigger (or snarl) at British pop's retro pretensions and pervasive slacker chic? How ludicrous, how pompous, is the cultivated scruffiness of Coldplay...

The Diary of Anne Frank - all previous documentaries and dramatisations have had me in sniffles pretty quickly, but this one I had to stop watching after just one episode. Ellie Kendrick was proving to be so annoying in the lead role that I had started to entertain dark thoughts along the lines that she might have had it coming to her...

Swarm, Nature's Incredible Invasions - is a dazzling new BBC series on swarming behaviours in nature, all so beautifully shot...even the firey pogrom carried out against Africa's multitude of crop-depleting weaver birds. The stars of the first episode were the Periodic Cicadas of Cincinnati which emerge for 3 weeks every 17 years. In the second part we come across Rome's winter starling swarms, in which each bird can simultaneously monitor the location of seven others, thinking ten times faster than the average human, and the amazing shape-shifting shoals of fish which make use of their lateral line to detect small changes in pressure waves. The result is a kind of collective mind, which left me wondering what this all means for selfish gene theory? How do emerging group behaviours evolve? And Can the explanation for this be linked to Lovelock's Gaia theory?

David Tennant provides the commentary, droping the cheeky mockney personality he adopted as the Doctor. I rather think that Timelords would say vortices and not "vortexes" though.

Nip/Tuck — the show which looks at itself in the mirror of televisual postmodernity and asks "Am I gay?"Judging by what I've seen of the latest set of episodes it's becoming increasingly hard for it to answer in the negative. The careful mix of depth and superficiality is fascinating, as is the way it dips opportunistically into other genres. Christian Troy is the pivotal character here, an instinctive bastard with a troubled past who is occasionally forced to explore his inner softy. V got me into this and we'll soon have seen every episode there is to see, so I guess we're going to have to switch our attention soon to something similar like M.D. House.

Heroes Season 3 — This is becoming ever more like a web than a series. I'm getting the feeling it doesn't really matter any more what order you watch the episodes in. With each new season the main villain has been supplanted by a new, supposedly even badder one. Meanwhile in the crowd around him, the secondary heroes and villains swap roles bewilderingly. The result is a brain-ache even worse than Lost.

Yet although I can't claim to recall all the narrative redirections and misdirections within Lost, understand everything I can remember, I don't feel the need to resort to a boxed set just to re-orientate myself every time a new episode is broadcast. With Heroes the temporal
— and ethical — contexts are constantly being scrambled, and the worst part of it is that one has the suspicion that much of this is down to the writers advancing up a creative cul-de-sac and then having to ignominiously retreat out of it.

Dexter Season 3 — Had such a slow start that I was beginning to think that the show's writers had run out of new ideas for taking this character forward without re-treading old ground. But in the end this turned out to be the best Dexter yet. The way multiple sub-plots were developed and interlaced was especially masterful: each advancing at a different pace, some every episode, others every two or three episodes. One was left open from the first episode to the very last. The way that Dexter's intriguing relationship with Miguel Prado was wrapped up at haste over the course of the last three episodes was a source of disappointment however.

Antiques Rogueshow — a great little hour-long drama from the Beeb about the Greenhalg family in Bolton who hoodwinked the experts into giving them hundreds of thousands of pounds for forged artworks. These were produced in the garage by middle-aged misfit Shaun, portrayed sympathetically by Jeremy Swift. He's presented to us as a kind of naive genius living entirely under the thumb of his avaricious octogenarian parents.

The main conceits of the show were 1) that these crooks were in a sense working class heroes and their crimes victimless 2) that Shaun's 4-year prison term was an unfortunate fate but not as bad as what happened to proper recognised artists like Van Gogh, Delacroix, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beardsley etc and 3) that what really matters in the Art World is provenance and that this is what determines a given expert's willingness to pay rather than innate measures of quality. Shaun's father (played with a wicked glint by Peter Vaughan) is the family's resident bullshitter, informing the police at his arrest of his membership of a sect which prohibits all forms of mendacity.

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