February 22, 2011
Despite the plethora of TV comedy out there, it isn’t actually all that often that I find myself truly and consistently tickled by a TV show. Luckily for me, Adult Swim exists. And whilst I find most of what I’ve seen from them very, very funny there is one show in particular that rises above their own very high standard and deserves far more attention and accolade than it receives. That show is The Venture Bros. Having waited for what seems like an eternity to an avid fan, Season 4 Part 1 is now available to purchase on DVD in Australia thanks to Madman Entertainment. And it’s every bit as absolutely awesome as the three incredible seasons that precede it.
At the end of Season 3 viewers were left wondering not only where the line between “good” and “evil” lay with relation to key characters but also who exactly would make it back alive for Season 4. Well, I’m not going to spoil things by answering those rather excellent questions but what I will say is that you needn’t worry because – one way or another – all your favourites will be returning and, as has been the case all along, the “plot” (I think we can just about call it that) thickens. There are important updates afoot with regard to The Guild of Calamitous Intent, The Sovereign, budding romances between certain young characters, the mental health of various other characters and of course, the very complicated, legal minefield that applies to the world of Arching.
If everything I wrote in the last paragraph means absolutely nothing to you then I suspect you are unfamiliar with the best cartoon ever made, in which case, you really ought to start with Season 1 and catch yourself up. Don’t worry, this recommendation is about as iron clad as anyone’s sanity, so if you have a sense of humour (and particularly if things that are a little bit not quite right so happen to tickle your fancy) go buy Seasons 1-4 NOW.
The only negative thing to be said about this DVD is that once you’ve finished watching the eight wonderful episodes it boasts, you’ll no doubt wish you had the next eight at the ready (sadly, they are not yet available over here). But, on the up side, you can go back and watch those eight episodes all over again which, so far as I’m concerned, is actually pretty bloody exciting because if Seasons 1-3 taught me anything, it’s that The Venture Bros. only gets better with repeat viewings.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.
July 22, 2010
If you don’t much care for the vast majority of what constitutes Australian TV comedy these days then you’re a) not alone and b) chances are, you actually have a sense of humour. Writer and Editor Stephen Scoglio and Producer Michael De Robbio are two individuals whose contempt for Australian TV comedy has reached breaking point and so they’ve taken it upon themselves to rectify the problem. The result is the genuinely funny, and often quite hilarious, Morningshines - ”Australia’s first ever morning show for nights!”
The official launch for the program was held last night at Melbourne’s Loop Bar (and it ought to be said that their screening room, whilst small, houses some unbelievably comfortable sofas) where Episode 2 rather than Episode 1 was screened. Although this might sound like a strange decision it really only acted to further cement, in my mind at least, that the creators of the show are appropriately bonkers enough to have created a product that is as honest as it is left-field. And if there was remaining even a fraction of doubt as to the sincerity of the project, a humble to the point of almost non-existent introduction to the screening only further confirmed my suspicions that the show would be anything but contrived.
And it wasn’t. Morningshines consists of a series of studio skits performed by “Steve and Mike” who are satiristically posited as incompetent television hosts intercut with a healthy number of sketches that act as “segments” in its parodic ”morning show” format. Clearly influenced by the likes of Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris and Alan Partridge; the humour is simultaneously sharp, ballsy and self-effacing. A welcome change to the typical trite you see on terrestrial tele, Morningshines is fresh and dynamic and I highly recommend tuning in when it airs.
April 13, 2010
Just when you thought that vampires and the horror scene were set to take over the visual world lock-stock, of all the genres, it was the musical that decided to fight back. But unlike its more saccharine feature-length contemporaries, HSM (High School Musical) and Camp Rock, Glee is a sat-sit (satire-sitcom) that gives the musical a fighting chance to achieve contemporary acclaim. Through a wise and self-reflexive reinvention of generic hybridity Glee presents, TV Musical Comedy.
Set in the fictional William McKinley High School where cheerleaders and jocks are popular, and anyone who isn’t either of those is not, the show focuses on a group of misfit kids who all share a passion and talent for singing. That and some well drawn stereotyped teachers who add an all important layer of sass to the show.
Its success rides really upon the combination of an outstandingly well-selected cast who can actually all sing and act, and sometimes even dance, combined with a unique mix of genuinely entertaining choreographed numbers and self-reflexive, satirical dialogue. The balance between the two is just right, goading its audience into simultaneously enjoying the cheesiness of the musical interjections without being twee, and the knowing back bite of a witty sitcom. Strangely enough (due to the musical interludes no doubt) the episodes manage to sustain an hour-long television slot (40-45 minutes in actual duration, allowing for advertisements) which is as much a testament to its writing as it is to its popularity. Usually sat-sits can only sustain half hour time slots due to the fast paced, hit-and-run momentum that is associated with snappy dialogue-centric TV. But Glee manages to combine its two central themes in such a way that forty to forty-five minutes go by without losing momentum or ratings.
The show has been a great commercial success in both the US and the UK, its first season premiering here on E4. And there’s even more good news for the Gleeks: whilst awaiting the television premiere of Season 2, Season 1: Road to Sectionals, is now available to buy on DVD. The box set is compact and complete with Special Features for the true die-hard fans. Some of the features appear to be promos (Glee Music Video and Deconstructing Glee with Ryan Murphy) as well as clips from episodes, both of which are short and unnecessary. Though there are others that do give insight into the show’s real charm: its cast (Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session).
It’s hardly going to go down in the archives as the most significant television programme of the 21st century, but when it comes to sofa viewing, it’s a rip-roaring success.
April 12, 2010
It’s 2010 and a lot of us already know that we are constantly being had. But it’s always good to be reminded that many of us are either still in denial or just plain unawares. Starsuckers (2009) is a documentary film that hopefully does more than just preach to the converted about the oppressive cycles of capitalism, looking specifically at the utility of the fame factory within it. So if you didn’t know, or if you just weren’t quite sure, then Starsuckers is the kind of documentary that ought to help you find out.
The way in which the phenomena that is ‘fame’ operates is as an echo of the greater system within which it thrives: capitalism. Starsuckers purports that through convincing children that everybody can be famous and that the key to happiness lies within the entertainment industry, the elusive and untouchable ‘powers that be’ (media networks, global corporations, et al) begin to control and direct our lives from the moment we enter the soul destroying system that is the capitalist western world. These claims seem fair and the world of fame is certainly a suitable target for mockery. But as always with this mode of ‘revelatory’ documentary (see anything by Michael Moore), it needs to be viewed with a pinch of cinematic salt.
Structured a lot like a persuasive essay or a series of debate cards, Starsuckers is segmented into clear points of contention to support its central thesis; that you’re being conned. Of course you are, but not just by the capitalist system, Starsuckers itself utilises many persuasive and manipulative visuals to convince its audience of its chosen agenda. For example, though I’m sure it is true that if there were a magic button you could press to make you smarter, stronger, more beautiful or famous, a majority of children probably would answer ‘famous’, but it might also be useful to know a little more about the reception studies at hand beyond the most obvious and binary opposition of gender, such as; socio-economic background, race and ethnicity, skills, aptitudes and abilities of the children surveyed. That is to say that the presentation of ‘factual’ information is at best partial and therefore subject to potential bias. Even when it asks questions that ought to be asked, such as, ‘to what extent are parents to blame and to what extent are the forces of capitalism at fault?’, it isn’t really asking. Having already suggested that we were all raised by “the system” it essentially absolves parents and individuals from any form of liability before it can even entertain the concept of responsibility.
The documentary goes to great pains to accredit itself and corroborate its message through the presentation of a great many talking heads authorities who include psychiatrists and university professors in related fields; their words weighty and their opinions valid. Inter-cut with humorous and at times eccentric found archive footage as well as undercover ‘observational’ documentary film bites, Starsuckers masterfully blends just about every mode of documentary filmmaking known to the discourse. Successfully alternating between serious persuasive argument, shock-factor footage or statistics and humorous eccentricities, Starsuckers is trying to reach the not-already-in-the-know “average television viewer”. If you’re not convinced then take into account the fact the film has been simultaneously released on terestrial television and on DVD. So, aspirationally, at least, it’s got its cinematic conscience in the right place.
One of the more contentious and therefore significant points the film raises is to do with the boundaries between “healthy enthusiasm” and “unhealthy obsession”. There is certainly a difference between the two and the film, to its credit, does attempt to address it. Its ultimate conclusion however is that the pervasive intent of the media is something of a responsible party in the increasing cases of mental illness amongst children. Little support for the claim is provided. The film also indicates a central instigative problem of individuals necessarily copying one another since the dawn of mankind. Whilst there is certainly something to be said for the way in which we learn from others and are taught to repeat, mimic and copy, in terms of media reception there can hardly be such a suggestion without taking into consideration the history and evolution of art, film and televisual media, let alone theories of identification and spectatorial studies. Something the film sadly neglects.
The film focuses its watchful eye primarily on US and UK media, giving the British press an extra special mention when it comes to celebrity gossip. Revealing the farce that is the British popular press, Starsuckers shows how several publications don’t necessarily fact check their stories before going to print. The nature of celebrity gossip is in fact such that they don’t even go out looking for stories anymore, they just wait to see what endless amounts of tosh come to them. Suggesting that the view of free press and increased access to information via the internet has not actually given us a greater sharing of information and opinion - that being far too optimistic a view - Starsuckers lets you know in no uncertain terms that there is very little journalism out there and that most of what is on the internet is incomprehensible babble. I’m not going to argue against that, but I would like to put forward the idea that for all the babble there is still some cohesive criticism.
But for all its flaws there are equal measures of achievement. 1) In terms of persuasive argument, at least five members of parliament in Lithuania were previously famous pop stars, television presenters and/or entertainers, 2) in terms of cinematic shock-factor footage, so called “charity events” such as Live Aid and indeed Live 8 actually do more harm than good, enabling ethnic cleansing and preventing other charitable organisations (specifically those which make up Make Poverty History) from succeeding not only in supplying aid (alone, something that in fact acts to keep third world countries oppressed), but also in achieving fair trade and debt resolution (a strong combination of which would help alleviate a country’s third world status in the long term), and 3) in terms of humorous eccentricities, as the head of The New York Reality TV School claims, ”I was actually, like, raised by a television.”
And if no none of the reasons above convince you, then you ought to watch it to find out just how much of a C**t Richard Curtis actually is.