Deep Space Nine: s03 e04 – Equilibrium


In a pool…

I’ve not really that much to say about this episode. It was well-made, and thought-provoking but, at the same time curiously static and uninvolving. Some of this has to be attributed to it centring upon Jardzia Dax and thus requiring Terry Farrell to hold it together.

I don’t want to be unfair on the lady, especially given that the episode called upon her to show aggression, which is outside the usual emotional range, and Farrell wasn’t too bad at that. But none of it ever felt completely convincing: unlike the rest of the cast, Ms Farrell doesn’t have the range to command an entire episode, and it was no surprise to find that the crucial scenes took place around her unconscious body.

To  summarise: at a party in Sisko’s quarters, Dax picks up a Twenty-Fifth century electric piano and finds herself doodling out a nice melody that she can’t properly remember. It starts to obsess her. She starts flying into uncharacteristic rages, accuses Sisko of cheating at chess, then has hallucinations of dark corridors and a dark-robed figure with a blank face-mask.

Bashir checks her out and discovers that Dax’s isoboramene levels are low, isoboramene being crucial to the communication between host and symbiont. He and Sisko accompany her to the Trill homeworld and the Symbiosis Commission where these levels are successfully treated, that is, until Dax has another hallucination, this time of witnessing a murder and being attacked by Commission staff.

The music is key to this. It’s tracked down as being by a Trill composer called Joran Belar, at which name Jardzia collapses in neuroshock. Her isoboramene levels have dipped sharply, to the point where, if they continue to fall, the symbiont  will have to be removed and Jardzia will die.

Sisko and Bashir try to find out more about Joran, but his records have been completely wiped. He has a surviving brother, who confirms that Joran was aggressive, even paranoid and violent – and also a Trill Initiate. What’s more, he was supposedly rejected, which led him to kill the doctor and be killed trying to escape, but his brother is convinced that Joran had been Joined, at least six months prior to his death.

Adding this to the information that Joran supposedly died the same day as Dax’s fifth host, the one immediately prior to Curzon, and Sisko susses it out. The Commission exists to govern the joining of Trill and symbionts. It tests extensively to ensure there are suitable hosts – approximately one in one thousand – so that the symbionts are preserved: an unsuitable host would kill itself and its symbiont within three to four days.

But Joran was an unsuitable host, yet he was joined to Dax and stabilised for six months. The omission has suppressed all records of this, proof that at least fifty percent of Trills can host, far far more than there are symbionts. The Doctor has to admit Sisko’s theory as correct, but pleads the greater good. Sisko will keep the secret, provided that Jardzia is cured. Which is resolved simply by her entering one of the symbionts’ birthing pools (in a long, flowing white robe that gets wet through, that Farrell does not provide us with any wet t-shirt moments). Joran Dax surfaces, symbolically, Jardzia embraces him and there it is: equilibrium is restored by the return of blocked memories.

It’s an interesting rather than an absorbing episode, with its revelations about Trills and symbionts (which, in their unjoined state, live mainly under ‘water’ and look a little like otters when they semi-surface), but as I said, a stronger actress than Farrell could have made this a lot more personal.

Gene Wilder


I’ll do it!

I first saw him in Blazing Saddles, playing the drunken sheriff and gunslinger, playing a gentle, humble, laid-back second banana role to Cleavon Little despite being the more established star.

Then he was Victor von Fronkensteen in Young Frankenstein, which i had the luck to see in the same week as Granada’s season of Frankenstein films had featured The Bride of Frankenstein, which meant I was fully au fait with all the gags and parodies.

And some time after that, I caught up with 1968’s _The Producers’_, in which he played the nervous and law-abiding accountant enveigled by Zero Mostel into the most-sure fire fraud of all time, a film that provided me with one of my all time film moments, when he finally succumbs to Mostel’s blandishments, screaming “I’ll do it!” at the top of his voice as the lights and the fountains come on, in a moment as kitsch as all get out and bloody wonderful to watch.

These weren’t his only films, but they are the ones I went to in my imagination when I learned this evening that Gene Wilder was dead at the age of 83, of complications to do with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Another victim to this most greedy of years, another light gone out of the life of the world. Rest in Peace, Gene Wilder. There wasn’t a moment you rested in any of your great films, and they were always the better for it. Go do it.

Porridge Regurgitated


As it ought to be

On a scale of Still Open All Hours to 10, the one-off Porridge revival rated about a 3. That was based on one point for making me laugh, softly, half way through the episode, and two for not being anything like as dire as Still Open All Hours. That still doesn’t mean it was in any way a good idea, nor that the show worked, and it certainly doesn’t mean that time or energy should be expended on making any more.

I picked out Porridge as being the only one of this mercifully short season of sitcom revivals with the potential to work because it was the only one to acknowledge the passage of time since its primary’s heyday. Also, it had Dick Clement and Ian la Fresnais going for it. This showed in the scripting, which was easily recognisable as the duo’s work.

It just wasn’t funny enough, though.

Some of it has to be put down to the actors. Kevin Bishop inherits the Fletch role as grandson of the original (sad to say, his grandad has also passed away, even in fiction, five years before, but he never went back inside, and Uncle Lennie was inspired by him and eventually set Fletch up with a North London pub, a real pub). I’ve not watched Bishop before. He’s not Ronnie Barker, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but on this showing he’s no more than a stereotypical, cheeky chappie Cockney, and he’s considerably younger than the old Fletch.

Clement and la Fresnais are to be applauded for not slavishly following their original, especially when the cell-mates set-up is reversed by having Fletch squared away with an old lag (Joe Lotterby, 77 years old, knew Fletch Senior in Slade, inspired the only real laugh I had when he related the true circumstances of his conviction for murder).

But that exposes a serious weakness in the revival. The point of Porridge was that Fletch was an old lag, a wily old lag, experienced in doing his bird, fly and far ahead of the screws. Nigel Fletch is a smartarse cyber-criminal, doing his first sentence. He’s too young and inexperienced to be a convincing wily old lag, yet that’s what he’s got to be.

As for the rest of the show, Clement and la Fresnais have been wise enough to go for recreating the atmosphere rather than slavishly duplicating the cast. There are recognisable figures: Mancunian gang boss Richie Weeks (Ralph Ineson) is the Harry Grout du nos jours, whilst Dominic Coleman as Senior Warder Braithwaite and Mark Bonnar as Chief Warder Meekie, are obvious replacements for Barrowclough and Mackay.

As for the rest of the lags, we do not have direct substitutes for Warren, McLaren, Godber, Lukewarm, etc., which is good in one way, but none of the new characters are as neatly drawn, nor so deftly played, as a result of which they make little impression.  The only one who succeeds is Bonnar, as Warder Meekie, and he is the one who most shamelessly channels his original, Fulton Mackay.

So there you have it. The show fails to be as distinctive and promising as its original because, in a clearly applaudable decision not to duplicate the original, it fails to set a clear enough tone of its own. Nobody is really sure how to play their characters without coming over as plagiarising the first cast, and the only one who says, soddit, I’m going for it, is the most convincing character of all, mainly be reminding us how much better the Seventies Porridge was. And still is.

Let common sense and ordinary decency prevail. Do not order a series. Please.

Homicide: Life in Season Six


This year’s Crew

After the melodramatic announcement at the end of Season 5, Homicide: Life on the Street chose to start Season 6 in a similar manner to the previous year. Instead of Pembleton returning from surgery after his stroke, the episode begins with Bayliss and Pembleton returning to Homicide after their temporary re-assignment to the Robbery Squad: three months of routine, nine-to-five shifts, regulation cases, undemanding work: they can’t wait to get back!
Both detectives are imagining a welcome party, and indeed they walk into the middle of one, but it’s Barnfather holding a press conference to celebrate the cracking of a major case by Detectives Ballard and Gharty.
Yes, as we surmised, Peter Gerety has joined the cast as Stu Gharty, transferring from Internal Affairs, as has Jon Seda, as Paul Falsone, from Auto. Ballard is the third new cast member for the season: Callie Thorne playing Laura Ballard, who has transferred over from the Pacific North West, the Seattle Police, and making a name for herself as a fine detective: you can just feel the sparks between her and Pembleton before they are even introduced.
The new trio comes at the expense of two departing cast members, both of whom were written out as a response to outside scandals. Max Perlich’s departure was long-known: the young actor had gone on a cocaine-fuelled binge, barricaded himself in his Baltimore rooms with a gun and faced down the Police: Pembleton called for Brodie only to discover he’d gone west, to Hollywood, after winning an award for his Documentary in season 5 (cue sarky in-joke referencing Homicide‘s record of multiple nominations and no awards.
And Kay Howard has chosen to stay with the Fugitive Squad. Melissa Leo’s departure was unfortunate, for she had been swept into a national scandal involving her partner and a custody battle with his ex-wife. And Tom Fontana commented that they had gone as far as they could with the character, which was, to an extent, true. Howard’s promotion to Sergeant had isolated her from her former fellow-detectives, and the genuine role a Baltimore PD Sergeant played had had to be twisted to keep her in the cast.
So, sweeping changes.
But season 6 was to prove both rewarding and difficult for the show, even as it was still running on the back half of its confidence-boosting two season order.
In Britain, Homicide had been running on Channel 4 since the early Nineties. It was, in many ways, an ideal Channel 4 programme, in the way that Hill Street Blues, with its greater elements of conventional Police melodrama, and strong soap opera content, was archetypal ITV.
But Homicide had never been a strong ratings item for C4, and by Season 6 it was obvious that they wanted as little to do with it as they could. Almost from the beginning it was dumped into a midweek 12.30am slot, and in its back half, C4 began to speed it along with double bills. For someone working a 9 to 5 job it was out of the question to sit up until 1.30am for single episodes, let alone compound that demand, and I ended up videotaping most of the series to watch the following evening after work: all except the two parter centring upon Ballard and Gharty that had actually been broadcast in America as a double-length episode, for which something went wrong on the timer.
It was a horribly disrespectful way to treat a series that had been a strong part of C4’s image for so many years, but it was worse to hear that it would not be renewed. There was going to be a Season 7, and it was going to be the last season, without fail. I felt betrayed that I was going to miss this further series: even 12.30am double bills would have been acceptable if I could only see the thing. In the end, though, the Channel outdid itself, billing the final episode of Season 6 as the last ever episode of Homicide, a blatant lie designed to shield them from any complaints.
The opening episode, kicking off a three-parter, saw not just Pembleton and Bayliss returning from Rotation. Lewis and Kellerman were also due back at later stages in the day, Lewis first, and immediately asking Giardello for a re-partnering: he would fetch up with the new boy, Falsone. Kellerman, last in, was partnered with Munch, who was once again solo, Russert having tendered her formal resignation after realising how out of place she was amongst her ex-colleagues when dealing with Felton’s death.
Infodumps having been handled with Homicide’s customary naturalness, we are soon into action. The body of a woman is found in the toilets of a swanky hotel where the great and good of Baltimore have gathered to honour Felix Wilson (James Earl Jones), a prominent black businessman and philanthropist, not to mention friend of Giardello, who is sitting with the family. Unfortunately, the victim is their maid.
Equally unfortunately, Pembleton pulls the case. I say unfortunately because Pembleton, in awe of Wilson and what he has done for the black community, starts with the presumption that neither he nor his family, by virtue of who they are, can be involved, and any attempt to investigate him is a racist slur. Gee concurs in this, initially at first, and only Ballard, who Pembleton contemptuously refers to a ‘Seattle’ wants to see proper procedures applied.
As may have been expected, the case eventually does find its way back to the Wilsons. The case is solved but not cleared when Pembleton meets Felix and his son for an interrogation in which their rights are not read, thus invalidating anything they say as evidence. The son is the killer: he was in love with Malala but killed her in a jealous rage when he discovered she was also sleeping with his father. The Wilsons are going to protect their son: what’s more, they are leaving Baltimore, and pulling out their holdings. Pembleton, in the end, is forced to make an apology, of sorts, to Ballard.
It was an intriguing story. What I took from it was the customary message that the rich – even such ‘good’ rich as a black couple who have not forgotten their roots – are ultimately intent on being above the Law. Their son is a murderer: he has killed someone known to and liked by them, someone under their protection. But he is to be protected from what he has done, justice is to be denied, because they have the money to confront it. And in what I can only interpret as a fit of pique that they should even be questioned about this crime, they will take their toys and go away.
Amongst all this, the new season made it plain that it had not forgotten Luther Mahoney: his sister, Georgia Rae, is making waves, refusing to believe the official account, and there is a motorcycle gunman taking pot-shots at cops: specifically Kellerman, the car containing Lewis and Falsone, and a woman shot through the head as she talked with a Drugs Squad detective, Terri Stivers.
The aftermath of Mahoney’s killing, and the knowledge that affects the three detectives involved is a canker that underlines the whole season. Georgia Rae Mahoney maintains the pressure on the Department throughout. It is her hapless son, Junior Bunk, Luther’s nephew, who is the motorcycle shooter, and despite his protestations of being hard, he cracks like an eggshell. But Georgia Rae not only keeps up the legal pressure, suing the City, the Department, the detectives, but she tricks Kellerman into more or less admitting that the shoot was bad. She also provokes Lewis into an assault that sees him suspended for most of the series and off the official scene.
For Kellerman, things go only downhill. The pressure is on him from the beginning, when he is rejected by his partner Lewis, and things worsen when it appears that the new boy, Falsone, is investigating the Mahoney killing. The new boy gets himself shot at on his first day partnering with Lewis: he is naturally concerned about what he’s gotten into.
And Jon Seda got all kinds of promotion during this season, his brash, aggressive personality brushing up against everything, his custody battles with his ex-wife running on. It was known by now that Andre Braugher was in his last season, seeking fresh challenges: in a ‘show without stars’ he was the clear star, and there was some resentment at the relentless way Falsone was being groomed as the new ‘star’.
As for Reed Diamond, he would also end up leaving the show at the end of the season, because the screws that tighten upon Kellerman end up leaving his story with no future. His killing of Luther Mahoney creates an inexorable trail. Kellerman’s attitude, his sense of responsibility, his concern for the dead, even his appearance suffer the longer things go on, as he tries at one and the same time to take sole responsibility for his actions, reassuring Lewis and Stivers that he will sort out everything, whilst blaming everybody else under the sun for what has happened.
The storyline is beautifully paced, simmering in the background, developing towards a fiery conclusion.

Talking to a living dead man

But at the same time, Homicide showed itself capable of strong stories that had nothing to do with the Mahoney case. Having established the ongoing effects of the Mahoney shooting, the show had the chutzpah to switch direction completely, centring upon Bayliss and Pembleton, with a minimal role for Lewis and Falsone. ‘The Subway’ was an incredible one-off: Vincent d’Onofrio, in his first TV role, guested as a murder victim, a man who, one morning in the subway station, is jostled on the platform and falls in front of the train. He isn’t killed outright, but his body is caught between the train and the platform. He is conscious, lucid, talking. But beneath platform level, the lower half of his body has been twisted round by 180 degrees. He is being kept alive because the pressure of the train is holding his guts in, but once the train has been moved to enable the emergency services to extract him, he will die literally within seconds. That is a cast iron certainty.
Did he fall or was he pushed? Bayliss works the crowd, eventually tracking down the madman who pushed him, an innocent, random victim. Pembleton interviews the dead man. It’s so far out of his experience, that the articulate Pembleton is all but speechless, completely bereft of ideas of what to say: he’s not used to the dead being able to talk back.
Lewis and Falsone are pulled into the case on a mercy mission: the guy’s girlfriend is jogging in the park and they are asked to find her and get her to the station so that they can say their farewells. It’s not an easy task, given the size of the park, and the pair don’t exactly go at it whole-heartedly.
In the end, the subway is moved, the victim dies, his assailant is arrested and, the final irony, as everyone starts to wind down and remove the gear from outside the station, a lone female jogger, with headphones, jogs out of the park and gives the action a wide berth as she heads home.
Coincidentally, d’Onofrio’s future co-star in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Kathryn Erbe, was principal guest star later in the season, as a full-blown, dying AIDS victim who has murdered the HIV-positive lover who, impliedly deliberately, passed on the disease to her and several other woman through unprotected sex.
Whilst ‘The Subway’ was the highlight of the series, there were two other one-off episodes that had no relation to anything else in the season, these being the mid-season ‘Abduction’, guest-starring Elizabeth Marvel as a mother whose four year old boy is kidnapped in the park, and ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, airing immediately before the final two-parter, in which Falsone, assisted by a retired detective who is a monster of old-fashioned attitudes, solves the oldest open crime on the Baltimore P.D.’s books.

Ballard and Gharty

I’ve already referred to Falsone’s prominence as the next Homicide ‘star’, but whilst he’s up front throughout the series, the other two newbies, Ballard and Gharty, do not fare half so well. Despite Ballard’s direct and challenging role in the Felix Wilson case, she and Gharty are very much side-lined until mid-season. The partnership doesn’t cross over much into other cases, and apart from introducing Callie Thorne’s real-life allergy to fish dishes, she and Gharty only start to come to the fore in the two-part ‘Something Sacred’, investigating the murders of Catholic Priests, a case that causes the former altar boy and practicing Catholic Gharty several issues.
In America, this was broadcast as a double-length episode, which was the latest example of NBC disrupting the show’s longer term plans. Lewis had been put on suspension the previous episode and throughout this two-parter, he is missing, uncontactable. The viewer is meant to fear he’s been killed by the Mahoney gang but the tension is not given room to develop when he turns up at the end of the two-parter.
For several weeks, whilst Clark Johnson was directing episodes, Lewis was making only fleeting appearances, dressed casually, slouching in his car, occasional meets with Falsone, who is feeding him information on the Mahoney gang. Slowly the screw begins to turn on Georgia Rae Mahoney as well.
Elsewhere, Bayliss and Dr Julianna Cox have a brief affair over Xmas and New Year, that Cox ends abruptly. Hurt and a little bitter, Bayliss becomes intrigued with his next case, the hate-murder of a gay man, and starts to explore other sides to his character, starting with a dinner date with the handsome, relaxed club owner who is so helpful to him and Pembleton.
Though the two are not connected, this is actually a prelude to the departure of Michelle Forbes. Tired of the awkwardness of shoehorning her into episodes, the show had Cox coming under pressure to falsify an Intoxication report on the victim of a fatal road rage incident by a City employee that looks to cost the city millions. Cox, after a long debate with herself, attempts to alleviate the pressure by leaking it to the press: she is summarily fired.
Just as she arrived during Season 5, Dr Cox departs Baltimore in her fast car, during Season 6. The producers have openly regretted the waste of Michelle Forbes by not introducing her as another detective.
As in Season 4, Homicide organised another crossover with Law & Order, with Munch and Falsone going to New York, and Lennie Briscoe, Rey Curtis and Jack McCoy coming to Baltimore in the second half. The case was a typical Law & Order ‘ripped from the headlines’ affair, riffing on the JonBenet Ramsay murder, a teenage model dying in New York following an attack made in Baltimore. Munch and Briscoe again hit it off perfectly, and Homicide played off that by introducing, a few weeks later, Munch’s ex-wife (and Briscoe’s ex-lover) Gwen , played superbly by Carol Kane.
Kellerman is also campaigning against Georgia Rae Mahoney, reporting a Judge in her pay to the FBI only to find that he’s already under investigation. Unfortunately, Kellerman makes a too obvious threat in a too obvious place and the Judge is taken out abruptly.
This is the unexpected signal for the endgame, in two of the most intense episodes of the series ever, though amazingly the finale starts with an in-joke. Bayliss and Pembleton, en route to the murder that will prove to be that of the Judge, precede the credits by discussing a new book by a couple of writers who spent a whole year on a Baltimore drug corner before writing it all up, and using everybody’s real names! Pembleton wonders if, one day, someone will write a book about him.
The joke is that the co-writer of ‘The Corner’ is David Simon, writer of ‘Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets’ and now an Executive Producer and scripter on our favourite programme.
The Judge’s killer is Junior Bunk, only he’s not the soft pushover he was at the beginning of Season 6. Bunk’s been inside and has toughened up, emotionally and physically. Handcuffed in the squadroom, he sees a chance to seize a weapon. An uncharacteristically bloody shoot out ensues: three uniforms are killed, Ballard and Gharty are seriously wounded and Bunk himself is shot down by a four pronged assault by Pembleton, Bayliss, Giardello and Kellerman.

Junior Bunk is no longer a sad-ass punk

It’s more than enough for Gee, who declares war on the Mahoney gang. In their decimated state, the gang cannot stand up to the cops. Georgia is found shot dead by her guards, one of whom in escaping confronts Pembleton, one-to-one. Pembleton freezes, unable to pull the trigger, and his life is saved by Bayliss, pushing him aside, but taking the bullet in his back. He is rushed to hospital.
The pressure of everything is too much for Stivers, who goes to Giardello and confesses that the Mahoney shoot wasn’t clean. Gee has to deal with this once and for all: though Pembleton wants to be at the hospital for news of Bayliss, Gee orders him back to the squadroom where, with Falsone, he takes first Lewis, then Kellerman into the box. Lewis initially lawyers up, but under Pembleton’s urging that they need to get the truth between them, dismisses his lawyer and silently points the finger at Kellerman.
The interrogation is intense, but despite Kellerman’s denials, the truth comes out, his body unconsciously betraying him by forming a gun hand pointing to the floor, giving Pembleton the vital clue. Kellerman’s astonishment at how he has given himself away is palpable.
Pembleton asks Kellerman for his badge and gun, but cannot bring himself to look at him. Lewis refuses Kellerman the loan of his gun and a moment alone in the Box. Pembleton writes it up straight and goes back to the hospital.
Giardello talks to Kellerman, advising him that he could fight it with lawyers, and maybe even win, but if he does he takes down Lewis and Stivers, who signed false reports to cover him. Trapped in an inescapable hole, Kellerman resigns so that the whole thing can be buried. When the news reaches the hospital, Pembleton does the same. The truth of the job has been lost to him: he can never go back in the Box. Bayliss is taken into surgery, and the season ends.
When C4 broadcast the final episode, they announced it as the last ever episode, in full knowledge that there was another season to follow, a season that I eventually got to see on DVD, several years later, slowly building up a library of the whole series.

The Infinite Jukebox: Shawn Colvin’s ‘Set the Prairie on Fire’


Sometimes, late at night, when the world has gone empty but I’m not yet in sight of sleep, I find myself turning to this song, and playing and replaying it over and over on YouTube. It’s almost seven minutes long and it can repeat for an hour or sometimes more, soothing me, easing tensions I can’t name. Sometimes, I need that desperately.

‘Set the Prairie on Fire’ comes from Shawn Colvin’s second album, Fat City, released in 1991, and it’s the least typical song she’s ever performed. That’s down entirely to its guest artist, the legendary Booker T Jones, on electric organ. and I do not believe that there’s another organ-player in the whole world who could have laid down this slow, smouldering, smooth and absorbing track.

The song is simple. It’s about sex, and when I say sex I mean looking forward with intense anticipation to getting it on with the loved one, or at least the one most seriously being lusted over. Colvin makes no bones about it from the the opening line: it’s night, the moon is full, and she’s gonna cover every inch of him like ink on a paper.

No holding back. The woman knows what she wants and there are no hints and half-statements. I can’t wait till I can get you in that defenceless position, she croons, bending phrases through a passion that’s overwhelming. We’ll set the prairie on fire, she promises, go down to the water, naked and slow. How hard will the wind blow? How far will it go?

Colvin’s guitar strums, Jones’s organ ripples. Colvin is being open, wide open, singing of her lust and what it does to her in terms that at least one former girlfriend would have insisted should not be revealed to men. There is an extraordinary verse: When this feeling burns down to one solitary colour (a synaesthesic moment, her orgasm has overwhelmed her), the velocity of lonely melts us into each other (the sex so intense that the boundaries between bodies blur), it’s a song our fingers play, all at once and together (the boundaries between minds blur), you can bet we’ve never learned this but we’ve known it forever (which is a reminder that sometimes I need, and sometimes I would rather not think of).

And we set the prairie on fire, she repeats, and though you wouldn’t believe the song could go deeper into that moment when man and woman achieve a closeness on every single level that obliterates the idea of being different people, Colvin tops it again, singing directly into the heart of that velvet explosion.

In the cool dusk of horses, through the rusted wires of sleep, with our arms around midnight, we’re heading for release, we go riding in the wind, we go riding in the dark, riding, riding, riding, until it all bursts and her voice soars.

Then there’s nothing left but that guitar strumming, a peaceful, even rhythm, whilst Jones, released in his own manner, noodles on the organ and the sound fades, slowly, very slowly, as the lovers lie there and try to remember which one they are.

It’s pure sex, of that most intense and brilliant kind, that takes you into a place where you can never go, save with that one person, where you can never go without them, nor with anyone else. Couples make these places together: they don’t actually exist on Earth.

At times, as night, when I’m feeling lost and lonely, I play this song over and over, until I am safe to go to sleep. Shawn Colvin didn’t mean for this song to be therapy for me, but it has become so. The times I need it gradually grow fewer, but the Infinite Jukebox houses my need, forever at hand.

Crap Journalism – Would you pay for it? (nudge, wink)


When I started this intended-to-be-a-running-feature, I was envisaging exploding at least once a week and more often at the crap that populates the Guardian these days. But perhaps I’ve become much mellower, or maybe it’s because I nowadays really don’t have any interest in most of what they pass off as journalism.

To take a current example, there’s a piece on the website today about ‘Critic-proof TV’, listing various shows that are slaughtered by the critics but which people not only watch and enjoy but, in the case of Mrs Brown’s Boys, have actually voted Best Sitcom.

That’s the peg for the article, but among these critic-proof shows is my own favourite, The Big Bang Theory. And I simply don’t give a toss that the critics don’t like it. I have made up my own mind about this, and that is good enough for me. I do not need or find validation in people agreeing with me, nor feel any threat from those who disagree.

And it’s like that about so many things. So many features and articles that are completely unnecessary, or which are nothing more than fluff that pretends to an authority that would be spurious if it were at all relevant. Think that way if you want (or if you really do and aren’t merely maintaining an attitude in order to generate clickbait for the advertisers).

But today I’ve become conscious of a seemingly new feature. At the bottom of many articles on the website there is a new exhortation. If you’ve used this, it suggests, why not support it? And there are a list of links ranging from £25 to £250.

Yes, the Guardian is now so desperate for money that it’s resorted to asking its web-page audience to pay for what it reads.

Maybe that’s understandable, but what is unbelievable is that all manner of useless, badly-written, off-key, skewed and inconsequential pieces are being rated as worth £25 – at least – to be read. And the notion that this ludicrous piece of celebrity-lite smoke-blowing is worth £250 – yes, just consider that for a second, £250 – is the very definition of crap journalism.

The Guardian was once a worth-while and valid paper. It has turned into a pandering, increasingly right-wing piece of birdcage lining, where only the sports section, and the crossword are worth perusing. I resent the payment I make for having a crossword to plug away at at lunch, and I certainly wouldn’t pay £25 for anything the Guardian has published since Hugo Young passed on.

If I’m being asked to read Crap Journalism, then it’s they who should be paying me.

A Bank Holiday Weekend for Going Out


Do not let these men’s memory be so vilely degraded

I warned you about this some time ago, and now the disaster is almost upon us: the BBC’s Classic Sitcoms season, starts on Saturday and runs through the Bank Holiday weekend and into the next fortnight. Do not even think of staying in this weekend, do not switch on your TV set or, if you absolutely must, avoid BBC1 as you value your values and any sense of decency in your life.

Herewith a link to the Guardian‘s summary of what is to come. As you will see, a half dozen unsuspecting sitcoms are to be ravished unmercifully. These include absolute legends like ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, ‘Steptoe and Son’, ‘Till Death us do Part’ and ‘Porridge’, the popular ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ and that pile of steaming old tosh that nevertheless doesn’t deserve it, ‘Are You Being Served?’

Of the sextet, the first three are being remade. Selected scripts have been marginally updated and will be performed by actors prostituting their talent by attempting to impersonate the original stars, looking as much like them as they possible can. Of course, the ‘Till Death’ script has had to be carefully selected to avoid the very satirical purpose of the entire series; in this benighted age you cannot satirise the ignorance of racists unless you can do so whilst not sounding like a racist in the slightest.

Something similar applies to ‘Are You Being Served?’, although that is being honoured with a new, pastiche script, to go with the pastiche acting. A black character is to be inserted but there will not, of course, be anything remotely like the kind of gag the show’s creators, the late Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, would have written when the programme was current.

‘Keeping Up Appearances’ has fared the best of all, by not actually being revived. At least a degree of sanity has prevailed in recognising that it is impossible to duplicate Patricia Routledge. Instead, we will have ‘Young Hyacinth’, a flashback tale of the future Mrs Bucket’s teenage years, setting her snobbery against her lower class family background, starring a much maltreated young actress who will be strait-jacketed into trying to duplicate all Miss Routledge’s mannerisms.

The only one in which I have the remotest interest is ‘Porridge’, which is the only one with the courage to update the story, whilst retaining the situation. Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais are on hand to tell the story of Nigel Norman Fletcher, grandson of the magnificent Fletch who, like Lennie Godber and the unfortunate Richard Beckinsale, remains alive in the backstory of this latest chip off the old block.

It’s the only one of the sextet to show signs of facing the new era, and it’s therefore the only one of these artistic and comedic abortions to stand the remotest chance of being watchable or even, dare I dream it? Funny.

The big danger, as with the wretched ‘Still Open All Hours’, is that one or more of these one-offs will attract enough of an audience to tempt the BBC to order a series. So do everyone a favour, switch off your TVs, do not add so much as an eyeball to the audience of any of these, help avert the further degradation of British TV, that believes that the capturing of lightning in a bottle can be repeated by bringing back comedies that were successful representations of their times, and asking invariably lesser men and women to copy towering talents.

It is an Abomination.