Deep Space Nine: s04e03 – The Visitor

Sometimes, when writing posts for this blog, I start with no clear idea of what I have to say, and only find out what it is that I think by the process of writing. So it is with ‘The Visitor’, the third episode of season 4 of DS9, which I watched with very mixed feelings but which, when I did my customary post-watch research, I find is regarded as one of the top ten Star Trek episodes of all time.

The subject is simple. An elderly Jake Sisko, played by Tony Todd deliberately echoing Avery Brooks’ speech patterns, tell his life-story to a would-be writer, Melanie. His life has been dominated by the death of his father, when Jake was merely eighteen. However, Captain Sisko did not actually die but was pulled into sub-space by a temporal disruption, from which he emerges at times to visit Jake.

After establishing a life for himself, and a reputation as a writer, Jake becomes obsessed with rescuing his father, which he calculates he can do by dying during Benjamin’s next appearance, which is the day of Melanie’s visit. The elder Sisko is aghast that his son has wasted his life in his obsession, and stricken when he learns that the injection we see the aged Jake take at the start of the episode is a suicide injection.

Exactly as Jake plans, his death closes a temporal loop, takes both of them back to the instant of the accident, only this time the fore-warned Benjamin avoids the energy surge. The Siskos get a second chance at a life.

It’s naturally a very Jake-centric episode, with Captain Sisko prominent, and primarily cameo roles for the rest of the cast, with a bit extra for Doctor Bashir and Jardzia Dax, who are aged up rather brilliantly by the make-up team to appear with a fortyish Jake at one point. The episode relies very heavily on its framing story and its two guest stars (Melanie is played by Rachel Robinson, daughter of Andrew, aka Garak).

It was there that the episode was at its weakest, for me. Because he was aping Avery Brooks, Todd’s performance throughout this was overly and overtly mannered, and kept jerking me back to this being one actor affecting the style of another. Robinson, in her turn, was altogether too gushing, and the writing, especially for her, I found to be overwrought and unconvincing. She arrives in the middle of the night, in the rain, uninvited and unexpected, full of praise, awe, disbelief and a generally cloying demeanour about meeting her hero. He, in return, is charming and twinkling, the old and wise man graciously condescending to the naive and unrealistic youngster. It was stagey, unrealistic and unconvincing.

The ‘historical’ elements, featuring Jake’s life without his father, began well, with Jake resisting leaving DS9 because it was the home his father made for him, though he was completely without direction. Then future history started to kick in. Sisko’s death, the Emissary’s death, was seen by the Bajorans as a sign that the Federation could not resist the Klingon Empire. They conclude a mutual defence pact with the Cardassian Empire, evacuate DS9, which gets turned over to the Klingons and goes into a decline. All of which is ultimately meaningless when time eventually loops back, and will doubtless have no bearing upon the remainder of this, or future seasons.

It didn’t bother me in the slightest that we ended up back at the beginning. It was both inevitable and logical, with no contrivance required, inherent in the story.

I’m being critical at the moment because, when I was looking at the episode objectively, as I try to do each week, the blogger studying his subject, these were my responses, a wide difference from the overwhelming level of response to the episode over the twenty years since it was first broadcast.

But that’s not all this was. In its heart, this was the story of a boy who lost his father too young, and who was scarred forever by that, and that is my story. When the episode went directly for naked emotion, it tore me up as well, and these were intense moments when my own feelings merged with Jake’s, and overrode them, when the episode stopped being something I was watching from outside.

These moments were punctuations, coming only when Jake and Benjamin were placed together, the impossible reunion, the one I want as much as the lost, obsessive Jake but,in this Universe, will never have. They were flashpoints. They couldn’t have been anything else, they weren’t sustainable, nobody could have lasted on that level, but their intensity for me meant that the remainder of the episode was a lightyear behind.

Ultimately, I think the very nature of the story was too close to me personally for me to be capable of a coherent response, or an assessment that has any value. Yes, I found a lot of ‘The Visitor’ flawed and overdone but it also got to me in a way that very little art, and Network Television, Prime-Time, formulated art at that, has ever done.

Apple Tree Yard – Bedknobs and Broom Closets

An excellent actress in a badly-written role
An excellent actress in a badly-written role

I’d read, earlier in the week, about the BBC’s new four-part Sunday night psychological thriller, Apple Tree Yard, which started yesterday evening. It stars Emily Watson, who had pre-interviewed it, plugging the way it deals with sexual impulses in respect of older women which, given that Emily Watson looks impressively attractive in her very early 50s, caught my attention in a very shallow sort of manner.

However, approximately halfway into the first episode, I switched off and will not be returning.

I was extremely dubious from the outset. The opening scene focuses on Watson, as scientist Yvonne Carmichael, musing about the events of her recent past as she crosses the Thames, looking out on the river and the craft on it, and the London scenes beyond. It’s made to look like any everyday commute by a professional woman, until the vehicle she’s in pulls up sharply, Yvonne is flung forward, she puts out her hands to brace herself, and we see that she’s in handcuffs.

She is actually traveling in a prison van, on her way to court, to be tried for murder.

Visually, it’s a very cleverly scene, presented in a naturalistic manner that makes the revelation a genuine shock, and an effective teaser for the audience. From there, we go back nine months (a pregnant period, appropriate since this all derives from a sexual incident, though the period of gestation is not disclosed to the audience in the part I watched).

But Yvonne’s voiceover is an utter disaster. It is so badly written, combining both a tin ear for natural human speech and an inability to escape from cliche that I started off with very great reservations, that, for the rest of the next twenty-five minutes or so, the writing only went further to nourish.

Yvonne is a scientific adviser who we first meet addressing a Parliamentary Select Committee about genetic manipulations. On her way out, a seeming Civil Servant (Ben Chaplin) starts chatting her up, takes her downstairs to view this private chapel and basically shags her up against the wall in the equivalent of a broom closet. Steaminess is accomplished by a couple of quick shots of the handsome stranger helping Yvonne get her tights and knickers off her feet, no flesh above the shinbone being exposed. The right wing press obviously has lower standards for sexual arousal than I have.

There is the exceedingly cliched dialogue about how Yvonne’s never done anything like this before, in the most cliched form possible with no attempt to try to deliver the words in any less banal form.

Yvonne is happily married to a University lecturer who is currently being drunkenly pursued by his Research Assistant (young, female) and very embarrassed by it. She has an adult daughter who announces her pregnancy, to Yvonne’s evident disappointment at the career break this will necessitate. She has a married female friend who is having issues with her husband, who she gets drunk with in a wine barwhilst being mysterious about her own life and husband in a manner that would immediately cause any semi-sentient woman to suspect her mate has been shagging about, but of course her friend doesn’t twig.

But Yvonne has been supercharged by this shag, and starts haunting Westminster in a most teenage manner, hoping to bump into her shagger again, which she does. The two head off to find another broom closet in which to re-shag, but before they got far, I’d turned off in boredom.

So far, the background and the minimal story to date has been a compilation of middle-class cliche differing only from the run-of-the-mill equivalent by ageing Yvonne about twelve to fifteen years above the standard age, which is not innovative. The writing is flat and dull, and shows no personality, and who Yvonne murders, and how guilty she may or may not be of it, is of correspondingly little interest if she and everyone about her is no more than a stereotypical figure, talking in rote manner.

But Emily Watson does look very good at her age, and I could be persuaded to be discernibly jealous of Ben Chaplin (but only to the extent that he is performing with Emily Watson, not Yvonne Carmichael).

SOTS and Tim Rice

It’s thirty-five minutes into the latest edition of Sounds of the Sixties, presented by Tim Rice in the ongoing absence of our old mate, Brian Matthew. But something’s different. Rice introduced the programme by telling us who he is, but for the first time didn’t mention that he was sitting in. And this far into the show, there hesn’t been a single mention of dear old Brian.

It’s still ‘sits in’ on the SOTS website, but people, I think we’re going to have to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. It’s not the same, and it shouldn’t be Tim Rice if and when the handover becomes permanent, because he’s too stilted and unconvincing, and without Brian, the music’s less involving. But the era is over, I fear.

UPDATE. No mention in the entire programme, just a see you next time at the end. I fear.

The Infinite Jukebox: Mr Bloe’s ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’

Quick! How many times have harmonica instrumentals only been held off no. 1 by the biggest selling record of the year? In any properly ordered Pop universe, the answer should be none, but in this imperfect world, there was one, and this is it.

I have an umbilical connection with ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’, as this is my Official First Single I Ever Bought (meaning that it’s the one I can feel safe in admitting to, given that it’s marginally respectable, as opposed to the Real First Single I Ever Bought, which was ‘The Leavin’ (Durham Town)’ by Roger Whittaker). Though I’d been listening to Radio 1 daily since just before Xmas Day 1969, I never really started to take things in until, being a tidy-minded person and something of an anal-retentive in psychological terms, I started writing down the Top 30 every week. The England World cup Squad’s ‘Back Home’ was just breaking into the charts, and I was allowed to turn over early to BBC1, just the once, before Top of the Pops had ended, to see the dinner-jacketed squad sing it. And, much lower down, this weird instrumental was starting what would prove to be a lengthy chart spell.

I say weird, because I couldn’t work out what was making that sound. There were only four instruments on the disc, and you could hear each of them, clear and separate. A crisp, metronomic drumbeat. A flexible but distinct rubbery bass. Deep bass-register piano chords. And this completely un-pop-like sound twisting and wailing its way through the melody. What the hell was it?

I ended up playing it to my Uncle, whose opinion of pop music mirrored that of my parents. He identified it instantly as a harmonica, which I should have recognised for myself, but had failed to do so because I simply did not associate harmonicas with pop (I had heard no blues up to this point). In those very early days, and based on my parents’ attitude to the music, I kinda thought of all pop music as occupying an insulated cocoon, with no bearing on or from any other kind of more respectable music whatsoever. And never would the twain meet.

But here was this bouncy instrumental, which I loved hearing, and it’s climbing the charts. It’s into the Top 10, it’s actually climbed as high as no 3, I’m considering buying it. It sticks at no 3 for a week. Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’ is no 1, and Free’s ‘Alright Now’ has leapt 23 places to no 4. The following week, Mr Bloe goes up to no 2. This is the week when my purchase will be of the greatest strategic use, when it will help push it up that essential one further place to no. 1. I beg the money off my mother and buy it at Sykes’ Records, on Lane End Road.

In this, I am being doubly naive. Firstly, in thinking that a two-bit, hole in the wall local shop like Sykes contributes to the chart returns, and secondly that Mr Bloe is more likely to overtake Mungo Jerry than Free. The following week, I am bitterly disappointed to find that ‘In the Summertime’ is still no. 1, which it will go on to be forever that summer, or for seven weeks, whichever is sooner, and that free and Mr Bloe have swapped places. Neither will break past Mungo Jerry.

‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’ falls away. Apparently, there was a live appearance on Top of the Pops which I missed due to the weekly parental ban, though ‘Mr Bloe’, so far as this single is concerned, is a rhythm section assembled by arranger Zack Lawrence (who plays the piano) and a session harmonica played by jazz harmonica veteran Harry Pitch, whose harmonica can otherwise be heard on such diverse items as Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’, and the theme music for Last of the Summer Wine. So, a session outfit, playing an instrumental written and first recorded in America in 1968.

There is a follow-up, ‘Curried Soul’ (on which the piano is played by aspiring sessionman Elton John) which, despite it being the follow-up to a massive hit, Radio 1 is curiously reluctant to play, even as something for the DJs to talk all the way through. A third single, ’74-78 New Oxford’ (the record company’s address) doesn’t even get that exposure. The record company sponsors a tour, with progressive band Hookfoot as Mr Bloe which means, in practice, that they start off my playing ‘Groovin’ with…’ then playing their usual set.

In much later years, when I am married, I occasionally baffle my stepchildren by pointing out that an old record they are listening to with contemporary disbelief actually was a smash hit. They can’t understand why, and I find it hard to believe myself. This never actually applied to ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’, but it would have fit that description perfectly

What I now understand, decades out of date, is that like a lot of improbable and obscure visitors to the Top 30, Mr Bloe was a favourite of the Northern Soul Scene, of which I did not become aware until 1974. It all fits, the hi-energy metronomic beat, the pounded piano, the fizzing bass. The harmonica, the melody that attracted me then and which still tickles my nostalgia, was the least important factor in the track’s success.

So a harmonica instrumental, played by the man whose most widely-recognised piece of music is the Last of the Summer Wine theme came close to being number One in the singles chart, in 1970. If not for Mungo Jerry, damn them (never liked ‘In the Summertime’ anyway).

Deep Space Nine: s04 e01&2- The Way of the Warrior

Season 4 - the new cast
Season 4 – the new cast

And without a pause we roll on into season 4 of the great DS9 rewatch, the midpoint of the show’s run, and it’s all change. Captain Sisko’s shaved his head, there’s a new and slightly fussier credit sequence, Siddig el Fadil is now going by the name Alexander Siddig, which puts him back in the credits so he’s now next to Nana Visitor, his missus (aww!). And, oh yes, enter as Strategic Operations Officer: Lieutenant Commander Worf, played again by Michael Dorn, after a year of inactivity since the end of Next Generation. All change. And a pretty bloody good double-episode of high seriousness, drama and consequence to kick us off with a perfect demonstration of what Deep Space Nine should be like, week-in, week-out.

The open started with what I initially thought was a flashback to last season’s final episode and the station-wide hunt for the Changeling, though the object of the hunt turned out to be Odo, and the whole thing a training exercise. It was an effective re-orientation for viewers after a summer off, but had no relation to the story which suddenly developed. A Klingon ship decloaks off the station, and its Commander, General Martok, requests shore leave for his crew. The Captain readily agrees. Then the rest of the Klingon Fleet decloaks…

There’s something going on. Sisko doesn’t really believe Martok’s claim that they’re only here to defend the Alpha Quadrant against the Dominion, there’s no discernible evidence of any activity at present. Martok’s hiding something so Sisko decides to seek outside help. Enter Worf.

This season was set after the Star Trek: Generations film (the only one I saw in the cinema, and the request of an old friend who didn’t want to go on her own), in which the TNG Enterprise had been destroyed. Worf has been on retreat until summoned to duty: he is seriously considering resigning his commission, in conflict between his natural Klingon beliefs and temperament and his duties – and his honour – as a Starfleet officer.

This is a very Worf-oriented episode, as was only to be expected. The heavily serious, yet uncharacteristically doubting Klingon is the fulcrum through which almost everything moves, with the lighter scenes being used as relief from the wholly serious plot. Into this category comes a scene in which Dax tries to get Kira into a holosuite programme with toyboy Trills giving great massages (I bet they do, I bet they do! Say no more!) which is mainly notable for getting both ladies out of uniform and flashing a bit of flesh: shoulders mainly, and some leg.

For once though, the balance is well-maintained, and even the Quark bits are decently portrayed, and at least in character.

But we are starting off the season with a major geo-political shift that will direct the overall flow of the show throughout the next twenty-six episodes and beyond: the downfall of the Obsidian Order on Cardassia (in s03 e21) has led to the overthrow of the Central Command and the establishment of a Civilian Government (with Gul Dukat as Chief Military Advisor, naturally), and rumours of civil war and uprising.

The Klingon Empire cannot believe that a civil uprising can, on its own, overthrow a military government. It is obvious, to them, that this is a move by the Dominion, that the civil government is led by Changelings. Their plan is simple: to invade, and take over the Cardassian Empire.

The Federation intends, at first, to stand by and not get involved, and that extends to DS9. Sisko cannot stand by: he takes the  Defiant, including Worf on its bridge, to rescue Dukat and the Civilian Council. This involves battle with a number of Klingon vessels.

It also involves the threat of war. Martok’s fleet, joined by Chancellor Gowron, demands the Council be handed over. Sisko refuses. In the past year, DS9 has upgraded its defences immensely. There’s a brilliant sequence of preparation for attack, full of the calm black humour of those facing a deadly situation. Worf has burned his bridges with his people, but he has retained his Honour. The battle is intense, including hand-to-hand combat on the Bridge.

It is all what the Dominion wants. Three of the powers of the Alpha Quadrant turning on each other, weakening each other, making the path to conquest so much easier for the Founders (we can leave the Vulcans and the Romulans out of this, apparently).

In the end, DS9’s resilience, and the imminent arrival of their reinforcement first, forces Gowron to withdraw. But the damage is done. Though they remain mutual enemies to the Dominion, the peace between the Federation and the Klingons is broken. And the Klingons are retaining several of the Cardassian colonies they overran. Like it or not, they are now a factor in the vicinity of the Wormhole.

As for Worf, he still plans to resign, until Sisko’s empathy over the fundamental reasons – the loss of the Enterprise and that crew – persuades him otherwise. Worf transfers from a gold shirt to a red, sets his foot upon the path of command, reorients the dynamic of the cast.

I’m looking forward to season 4.

Men who walked…

Former US Astronaut Eugene Cernan died on Monday, 16 January, aged 82.

He’s not the first death in 2017, and there have already been a couple of big names, too demonstrate that the trend from last year hasn’t necessarily with the change of this final digit, but none of those so far meant enough to me personally for a comment.

Nor should Gene Cernan, since his name was unfamiliar to me until the announcement of his death. But Mr Cernan held a distinction that went unremarked at the time, and that I had never considered. He was the last man to walk upon the Moon. The last man from this planet to stand upon the lunar surface, to stand on another body in the Universe.

It started me thinking. Only twelve men, between 1969 and 1972, did what Gene Cernan did. I remember the tremendous, the terrible sense of loss I felt in 2012, when the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, was announced. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so deeply affected by the death of someone i didn’t personally know.

Armstrong the first and Cernan the last have now died. It is 45 years, almost three quarters of my life, since Gene Cernan stepped away from the Moon’s surface, to return to Apollo 17, to return to Earth. No-one, since then, has done what those twelve men did.

I had to know if he was really the last. it took a surprisingly long time to track down a simple list of those twelve who shared something none of us can ever imagine. Something that may never ever happen again the way things are going on, and not in my lifetime at any rate. But six men who did that are still alive. There are still a half dozen men among us who have stood on the surface of another world.

Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, David Scott, John Young, Charles Duke and Harrison Schmidt. The youngest of them is 81. Buzz Aldrin, who  stood with Neil Armstrong, is 86. We have a survivor from that first mission still.

I could explain something of why this seems to be important to me, if you gave me time enough, and I can tell you all the reasons why not as well. But it is in me, in whatever passes for my soul, to look outwards, to yearn outwards. To say that we must, one day, resume that journey into space. I simply cannot be without wanting that.

Eugene Cernan cannot be the last ever. But he is the last now. And he’s no longer with us. One of our most astounding achievements as a species lies behind us ad it gets ever further away with every minute. Which is why I commemorate the passing of someone whose name I did not know less than an hour ago.

Paying the Penalty

The penalty conceded by Paul Pogba that gave Liverpool the lead at Old Trafford yesterday, for almost an hour, was the most stupid, wasteful, needless and ridiculous I have seen in many a year. In fact, the last time I saw so a penalty so idiotic, I was still at school in the Sixth Form.

I should know. I conceded it.

We were on the bottom pitch, the three-quarter size one immediately in front of the school, defending the left hand end as observed from the Headmaster’s study (not that he was observing, at least, I hope not). The ball was crossed in from the right, and it was coming towards me.

What I was doing in my own penalty area was a mystery. You were far more likely to find me in or near the opposition’s penalty area, sniffing for a chance, alert for an opportunity or, as we called it then, goalhanging.

The other reason it was unusual for me to be where I was was that I was useless. I couldn’t head the ball, I couldn’t trap it, tackle anyone who had it, or muscle anyone out of making contact. I was stood there, in the middle of the box, in space, with the ball coming just above my head and to my left.

So I jumped up and slapped it down with my left hand.

Why did I do that? Sheer devilment. I had never given away a penalty before, I had never given away a deliberate handball, I was incapable of doing anything constructive, so in order to find out what it was like, I did it.

I paid for it almost immediately. My side were disgusted with me, which was nothing new on the pitch. My mate Zak was in goal and, picking up the ball, drop-kicked it upfield. It nearly hit me in the face, but I jerked my head aside, my mouth falling open as the ball whistled past.

Unfortunately, Zak’s violent hoof was violent enough to detach a lump of pitch from the sole of his football boot, at a slightly different trajectory to the ball, one that took it straight into my face. No, not my face: my mouth. The lump of mud and dirt flew into my open mouth without touching the sides, and burst against the roof of my mouth. It tasted exactly like you’re imagining it to taste.

Coughing, spluttering, digging in my fingers to hook out what was hook-outable and being very unsuccessful, I stumbled from the field and raced off to the nearest toilets where I could stick my gob under the tap and wash myself out.

Then back to the field, where the penalty had been duly converted as I stumbled bog-wards, and where I was the subject of much adverse comment, not for giving away the penalty but because I’d abandoned the field of play to wash my face, just because I had gotten mud on it.

In vain, I pointed out that it wasn’t on my face but in my mouth, but such niceties were unimportant at an all boys school. I was called all sorts of names, most of which would, not all that long afterwards, be subsumed in the general title of ‘wimp’, once we’d learned it.

So my stupid, wasteful, idiotic and needless penalty carried with it an instant karma. Only the goal accompanied Pogba’s penalty, but then his karma already has a severe load to bear. I mean, did you look at his hair? At least I’ve never committed an atrocity like that, which makes me infinitely superior.

Uncollected Thoughts: Sherlock series 4, episode 3

Sometimes, no amount of words can be put together to explain a piece of work that you have seen. ‘The Final Problem’ went everywhere and nowhere. It played on fear, love, heartbreak, confusion and the ability of the mind to maintain an ordered account. I found it brilliant beyond my capacity to describe, and will not attempt to explain anything for or to you, when I can’t put it together in a way that does not overwhelm me.

I don’t know how long it will be before, or maybe if, these people can be got together for series 5, but I will do everything I can to live that long.

Uncollected Thoughts: A Series of Unpleasant Events – episode 1

Long ago, in the mists of time, when the world was not as it is today, and the Guardian was still a half-decent paper, so you can tell how long ago we’re talking about (the early 2000s, actually), I read about a series of children’s books with a dark and twisted theme to them that promised to hold a great deal of interest to adults as well. When my then-wife read the feature, she agreed that this sounded perfect for her elder son.

After overcoming the automatic suspicion that any sensible teenager has for anything recommended by adults (it’s going to be good for me, that’s what you think, isn’t it?) he and his siblings settled in to read the series, over and again, and so did their stepfather.

Indeed, I got so heavily into the series that when it came to the last four or five (of thirteen), he didn’t get the new book until I had read it first. Ain’t I a stinker?

That series was, of course, the gloriously morbid, downbeat, dry, didactic, absurd and understatedly hilarious A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (a pen-name for Daniel Handler), in which the lugubrious Mr Snicket records the awful things that happen to the Beaudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, after their family mansion burns down, killing their parents and leaving them homeless and friendless.

Doesn’t sound all that enticing, does it? But then, in each book, several times over, the lachrymose Mr Snicket records his obligation with depicting the sad lives of these three innocent, and very intelligent, children whilst simultaneously urging his readers to look away, not to continue, to put the book down and go read something happier.

Meanwhile, the Beaudelaire’s continue their downwards progression from would-be guardian to would-be guardian, perpetually pursued by the evil villain, Count Olaf, a mountebank and a double-dyed baddie who takes in everyone around him whilst being a complete moustache-twirler. Snicket created a bizarre, real, implausible and attentuon-holding world with wonderfully dark comic riffs, such as the continual use of archaic and complex words whose meaning in context is carefully spelled out, and the dedications to the mysterious Beatrice who has already gone on ahead, e.g., from the first book, ‘To Beatrice: dearest, darling, dead’.

The series has been a massive success worldwide, which was down to not merely Handler’s dark imagination but his hyper-detailed approach, extending to control of the book’s packaging as well. Handler even provides gorgeously stylised illustrations under a second, even more elusive pen-name.

Given the film world’s overpowering desire to find a franchise half as popular as the Harry Potter series, A Series of Unfortunate Events was seized upon with gusto, with Jim Carrey talking the role of Count Olaf. The film merged books 1-3 into a single, but episodic story-line, but basically bogged it up almost as badly as The Golden Compass did with Philip Pullman.

However, Netflix have entered the fray, with the release on Friday of an eight-part series, based on books 1-4 (evidently two episodes per book). The screenplays are actually by Daniel Handler so there’s going to be no lack of faithfulness to the books, and Neil Patrick Harris is playing Count Olaf (and looking identical to Carrey in the film, but then both are based on the same very strong, very individual visual characteristics).

Better than that, where Lemony Snicket was no more than a voiceover in the film, here he’s played by Patrick Warburton, tall, dark, substantial, handsome, wandering in and out of the scenes, talking directly to the audience in dry, deadpan tones that are absolutely perfect. It’s a brilliant device and Snicket’s continual interruptions set a tone that then carries on into the formal, dry, didactic language the characters use themselves, establishing a world that exists in parallel to the ‘real world’. There will be nothing natural here, and from the opening moment, the audience is convinced of it.

The child actors are spot on, too. Malina Weissman (who’s actually slightly younger than Violet as she’s still only 13) is a familiar face already from Supergirl, where she plays the young Kara. Louis K Hynes is a very good Klaus, whilst baby Presley Smith plays the two-year-old Sunny, with the aid of a lot of CGI but does put a look wrong.

I was giggling from the outset. The opening episode has captured the tone of the books and creates that slightly-elevated artificiality of look, movement and word that makes every sentence funny. To be critical, the longer the episode (50 minutes) goes on, that constant tickling starts to lose steam, but then again the orphans’ plight gets steadily worse and that is the hardest of balances to maintain. And though Harris inhabits Count Olaf to the point of being completely unrecognisable as Neil Patrick Harris, he’s not yet frightening in thee way he really ought to be.

Still, there are seven more episodes of this series for him to escalate his performance, and I’m sure this is going to get better as the weeks go by.

Weeks? Yes, I know this is a Netflix series, and that all episodes have been released simultaneously, so that the whole thing can be binged through in a flat seven and a half hours, but I’m afraid this blog is having no such truck with new-fangled notions like that and we’ll do this the way Nature ordained, one episode at a time, thank ye kindly.

But don’t let me stop you. This one is bloody good fun.

(Mmm. That bit at the end. With Father and Mother Baudelaire. You mean, they’re not actually dead? What’s that about? Look, is there any more of that stuff in episode 2? Is it too late to start watching…?)

Crap Journalism: Party Lines – update

What did I tell you?

The final episode of the fourth series of Sherlock is tomorrow, but the Guardian, which has no idea of proportion, or balance, or indeed when to knock it off because it’s creating the opposite reaction to that intended, has resumed its campaign of hate against the programme.

I’m not even linking to the latest salvo, which takes the form of the TV review page in the Weekend pocket-sized supplement. The column, entitled ‘The Other Side’ is usually written by Filipa Jodelka but – warning! warning! self-important twat alert! – this week it’s been handed over to the egregious Stuart Heritage to tell us, guess what, that the long-running American series, Elementary, is a better Sherlock than Sherlock. Well, no shit, er…

It’s not even as if Heritage can muster any great claims for Elementary: indeed he damns the show with faint praise by pointing out that there already over 100 episodes and that there are ones that don’t work but, hey, so what, other ones do.

Heritage even paints Elementary as a procedural, just as much as CSI or NCIS, but argues, on the basis of no evidence produced, that it is a cut above them, seemingly more honourable.

Now I have no comment to make on Elementary. I have seen nothing of it bear a handful of trailers, a few minutes in total, none of which have inclined me to want to watch more. It may well be very good, and/or highly entertaining, or it may be the kind of sterile formula-follower that over 100 episode in five years might suggest. I don’t know, nor do I care.

But on its behalf, I resent it suddenly being talked up like this, at this time, in this very week, not out of any merits it may possess in itself but as a stick to be deployed in the Guardian‘s vendetta. This is a show so monumental and magnetic that it appears on Sky Living, remember.

The thing about this kind of full-bore piling in, slinging mud at every possible moment, is that it demonstrates just how ineffectual the Guardian is being. If it had any confidence in itself and the validity of its opinions, it would make its point (without Heritage’s unfunny witty and ‘cutting’ comments) and rest on it. Instead, it has to shriek and blare, over and again.

It used to be a decent paper, too. I’m trying to remember how far back that was.