Category Archives: 3-5

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E10 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

The satire was … more on-point than during most of the series.

Recent episodes of Spitting Image have been a bit weak. Would the season finale arrest this decline, or are we locked in a death spiral?

Episode 10 had the usual mix of running sketches and references to that week’s news events. This week, Priti Patel’s bullying came up. Boris Johnson compares it to his Eton shenanigans and declares Patel’s behaviour “harmless banter”. The whole cabinet then proceed to “banter” Hancock by physically abusing him while victim Hancock proclaims, “I’m part of the gang”. Probably the best scenes of the episode. Satirical, references current events, and the surreal elements had some basis in truth (Priti Patel “deporting” a succulent plant out the window for being “foreign”).

There were many other funny moments, too. Barack Obama was portrayed as a money-grubbing, corrupt, shyster who only cares about selling his book. Great to see a hero of the liberal-left satirised. Harry Styles tries to be macho but just keeps getting camper, which made me laugh. And Taylor Swift was portrayed as vacuous and basing everything on market research. The runner Mike Pence’s Fairytales for White Folk was actually funny this week, almost makes me regret that we won’t likely be seeing it again. Fox Man Starmer was also back, and as usual he isn’t so much “forensic” as he is a tedious law bore. None of this was razor sharp, but it was all diverting satire with surreal and grotesque streaks running through it.

The satire was indeed more on-point than during most of the series. A great example of this was the satire of Amazon, referencing absurd over-packaging of items and its almost creepy invasiveness. So much funnier than all that nonsense with Bezos on Mars from previous episodes.

There were a few clangers, though. Bezos’s girlfriend’s puppet looks exactly like a whitewashed Megan Markle puppet. This was weirdly distracting. The song number was once again unfunny. And there were a few sketches that went on a bit long.

None-the-less, Episode 10 was a stronger outing than in recent weeks, a decent end to the season. Just nudges a three.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E5: US Election Special Part I #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Explaining jokes smacks of writers who don’t have confidence in their own material or in their audience… it’s unforgivable.

Spitting Image episode five was the first half of a US Election special double-parter with a season-appropriate Hallowe’en theme (although later on, the theme slid into Christmas, which was a tad discordant and odd).

The stand-out scene, which came early, was a séance which ended up in Margaret Thatcher’s ghost taking over Boris Johnson’s body. Boris-in-a-wig was something to behold, but nothing compared to the image of Michael Gove wanking off under the table to said possessed Johnson or to Priti Patel actually getting off with the spectre. A surprising and delightful scene.

We got to meet Fox Man Starmer, a hero for our age, which seemed to recall the classic Batman and Robin scene from Only Fools and Horses. Another surprising and delightful turn. I hope we see more of Starmer’s alter ego.

However, the episode was far from solid laughs. One problem with Spitting Image so far is the tendency to explain its jokes. For example, we saw Trump declare, “I want an election that is free, and fair, so I’m going to personally check all the mail-in ballots”. Which was great! But then they ruined it by carrying on, “… and destroy all the fraudulent ones that voted Democrat!” We got the joke already!! Why explain it to us? Or how about another decent moment, where we see Boris Johnson going to Biden to grovel and pre-emptively be friends — great! But then once again the joke is spelled out and ruined, BoJo telling Biden, “I love you … since I’ve seen the latest polls”. Explaining jokes smacks of writers who don’t have confidence in their own material or in their audience. It’s bad writing at the best of times, but in a supposedly sharp satire, it’s unforgivable.

Apart from these hit-and-then-miss moments, there were many moments that missed altogether. For example, there is another song that falls flat. Guys, don’t write these songs if you can’t write them funny. And the lazy jokes kept coming: Prince Andrew repeatedly being hit in the face. I understand: he’s a punching bag. I understand: we just want him to shut up. I understand: every time he opens his mouth, bad stuff happens. But it’s not funny. Stop.

Richard Branson was presented as yesterday’s man, a kind of prehistoric Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, who, at least in his own deluded mind, he is in competition with. Weirdly, none of these jokes worked well and I kept looking at the time to see when the Branson-Musk-Bezos segments would end.

Episode Five also saw Putin and his troll farm get “investigated” by Zuckerberg. It was amusing, but the only two real laughs came from the lines “U, S, and also A” and “da”. When funny accents and dodgy foreign grammar are the best bit of your satirical take, you know you are in trouble.

All in all, there were several laughs and a couple of really memorable scenes. However, laziness, jokes that make little sense, and a general lack of cutting edge (Tories literally or metaphorically wanking off to Thatcher is not original or clever, no matter how funny that scene was) mean that this episode never rises above being merely “good”.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E3 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Spitting Image still seems to be finding its way

The third episode of BritBox’s Spitting Image was a bit less random than last week’s outing, focusing more on a few key characters. This was necessary as it gave us a bit of time to develop the jokes, insofar as the jokes are developable and not just the same gag repeated and reheated.

We see a massive increase in the presence of Prince Harry and Megan Markle. The jokes were mostly obvious — Harry is a bit of an idiot, he’s posh, he thinks he’s run away to freedom but is actually more under-the-thumb than ever — but these punches nonetheless landed and were funny. The line involving “chukka” made me laugh, encapsulating in a few words Harry’s total detachment from reality like never before in his life.

We started to see significant time committed to ridiculing the totally ridiculous Labour front bench. This was nice, and it’s unclear why the Shadow Cabinet hasn’t been featured that much already; perhaps it’s fear of offending the left, or perhaps it’s just that this ridiculous Labour frontbench is beyond satire. In any case, Starmer was portrayed as the only competent one, all his team presented as incompetent toddlers in need of direction. I’m not sure if this is particularly on the nose, however, as his team is generally seen (by critics) as an example of positive discrimination gone awry with incompetents being overpromoted due to having ticked the right boxes.

Episode Three did just enough to nudge a good rating, but it’s still marginally weaker than the season opener. Spitting Image still seems to be finding its way. It’s a show that the world needs, and it’s a show with a great weight of history behind it. Therefore, I’m willing to give it time to come of age. But it’s still not hitting the right notes.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E1 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

wasn’t the sharpest satire I’ve ever seen

Spitting Image is the legendary satire-with-puppets show that helped define an era (the ’80s-90s Conservative governments) and which was internationally syndicated and remade in dozens of countries. It has gone down in TV legend, so much so that there have been several tries at rebooting it or copying it. But October 2020 is when the show was finally rebooted, exclusive for the BBC-ITV joint delusion venture to rival Netflix: BritBox. But can reality ever live up to the memory of this now fabled show?

Episode one was surprisingly on point in terms of style and gags; you would never have thought the show had been off air for around 25 years. However, just like the good old days, many of the gags fell flat. And just like the good old days, many other gags had an inspired insanity about them (I’m thinking an extra-terrestrial, insectoid, baby-eating Dominic Cummings… if that doesn’t get you interested, I don’t know what will).

There was some lampooning of the right, as you would expect, but thankfully the left wasn’t immune, either, Lewis Hamilton and Greta “Magical Autist” Thunberg coming in for fire.

One bizarre weak point left me scratching my head. The guy doing Boris Johnson just wasn’t that good. He was weirdly restrained. Boris Johnson himself makes a better parody of Boris Johnson than this Boris Johnson parody did. Quite odd, and a bit of a flat note.

All in all, this wasn’t the sharpest satire I’ve ever seen. However, it was much better than the knock-off Newzoids (2015-2016). Many jokes landed. It seems to be taking swipes at all. And the trademark mix of heady satire and toilet humour has continued. Worth watching, although I’m not sure if it’ll be good enough to help make BritBox a success.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard Season One Review @SIRPATSTEW @STARTREK @STARTREKCBS #STARTREK #STARTREKPICARD

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the writers need to stop introducing deep story threads … and then resolving them … in one scene or through exposition.

Star Trek: Picard promised much, returning as it would to some of the franchise’s most beloved characters, notably Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself. The eponymous series starts with Picard in semi-comatose retirement, whiling his time away on his vineyard, when, suddenly, his retirement-cum-autoeuthanasia is rudely disrupted by a gatecrashing stranger with an extraordinary story.

The excitement of spending time with Picard and co again was mildly tainted by the stench that this was just an easy paycheque for Patrick Stewart. Plus, his rants on Brexit and Trump, even if you agree, boded badly for this series executive produced by the man himself; would this merely be Stewart in soapbox mode? However, these fears were unfounded. Picard got off to a slow but steady start, before launching into warp nine in the season’s second act, before stumbling and tripping in act three. Did it come off the rails? Not at all. But the ending was unworthy of the journey. The old characters were of course nice, but it’s the new characters that were refreshing: all the hallmarks of classic Trek characters, without feeling derivative. A great new batch of characters for the Trek canon.

If Game of Thrones is the yardstick (bar season eight) for streaming series, then ST:P isn’t quite the full 36 inches. But it’s not bad, either. Far from it. There was no single episode that you could call “poor”, although some were distinctly weaker than others. The worst episode was solid and serviceable; the best: first rate exciting television. This show could go far. But the writers need to stop introducing deep story threads and backstories and then resolving them within the very same episode, worst of all, in one scene or through exposition. This show seems more accessible to non-Trekkies than any other Star Trek series, including Discovery, but still seems Trek enough for Trekkies; maybe it’s found that Goldilocks zone that much of the franchise has failed to find.

All’s well that ends well? Yes. And if the finale had been stronger, season one would have gained a four star rating. But the box-ticking logic-chucking way the first season ended somewhat soured the thing. All in all, I am cautiously optimistic for season two. A good show for Trekkies and a good show for newbs.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Star Trek: Picard S1E10 “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Boxes were ticked …

Star Trek: Picard‘s season one finale, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, sees our heroes hatch a daring plot to prevent the destruction of all biological life at the hands of an advanced god-like artificial lifeform whilst also preventing the destruction of the android planet whose denizens are the ones summoning the aforesaid god-like synths. Classic Trek quandry!

“Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” had a lot of action, fight scenes, starship battles, enemies temporarily allying, faces from the past, moral dilemmas, betrayal, a defence of the Federation’s sacred principles, and a whole lot more beside. Unlike some other episodes, such as episode one, this installment was packed with action and certainly had me engaged from beginning to end. On paper, it was an amazing season-ender. Unfortunately, the entire season’s main storyline was neatly resolved. A little too neatly. Boxes were ticked, and the whole season’s payoff felt flat and without effort. Everything was too easy in the end. For example, despite being a huge, long-time Trek fan, I just did not feel any emotion at the death of a key character which the show’s producers clearly felt was the “emotional” showpiece of this episode. It lacked weight because we already knew that this person wasn’t going to really be dead after all. Everything was too easy.

Forget logic, let’s just resolve away! Huge and absurd plotholes, such as the magical deus ex machina energy-to-matter device. Made no sense whatsoever and was used merely to set us up for an episode which just concluded everything — because it just had to!

The complexity of this season deserved a more complex and subtle set of resolutions. Furthermore, everything was wrapped up. Not even the hint of a cliff-hanger. I cannot imagine how Season Two will carry on the storyline, as there isn’t much of anything left to resolve or carry on. This gives the effect that season one was merely an extended single episode and that the universe is going to effectively reboot with season two. Instead of having an ongoing show arc, are we going to have merely one season arcs? Have the producers figured out a way to stretch the classic Trek double episode into a season-long fare? Will we end up with ten seasons, each compromised wholly of one over-extended and massively fleshed out single episode?

The weirdest thing about the episode is something whose full significance only hit me later when mentally sifting through this episode: the characters in the show have basically discovered a way for people to become immortal. The greatest discovery ever. Yet the significance of this seems to be not recognised by anyone. Truly baffling stuff.

All in all, “Et In Arcadia Ego, Part 2” was one of the more action-packed episodes, but it was also one of the weakest. Indeed, I think was bested in the weakness states only by Episode One which was an incomplete episode by necessity (as it sets everything up). All’s well that ends well. Sadly, although this season finale wasn’t bad, it was weaker than the show merited.

A frustrating and disappointing, albeit not bad, end to what has been a frustrating, if promising and exciting, first season. Not the final episode the season deserved.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E8 “Broken Pieces” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… in the rush to the season finale, “Broken Pieces” incompletely tells a story of its own …

Episode 8, “Broken Pieces”, thrillingly sets up the season finale two-parter. We are told a lot about a secret Romulan sect and why they are so hell-bent on destroying the androids. And the previously alluded to plot within the Federation dramatically shows up again. We are also tantalised by the prospect of visiting Soji’s homeworld, a prospect set-up in episode 7.

Our fellowship is crumbling before our eyes because our mole aboard La Sirena has been found out. But the most compelling aspect of this episode is that we are reminded that the baddies of the show, those fighting against our heroes, themselves do have very legitimate reasons for what they believe in — they don’t want to see the destruction of all life by synthetics, which is portrayed as a frighteningly realistic possibility. The viewer is suddenly, horribly aware that the heroes and synths we have been rooting for might well be on the wrong side. If only our baddies didn’t seem quite so sadistic, we would want to side with them. To facilitate this end, we see a weak, vulnerable side to Hot Sexy Space Elf, A.K.A., Narissa (Peyton List).

To save us from all this crushing bleakness, comedy relief was much appreciated. This week’s turn at playing the joker was Rios (Santiago Cabrera): all the different holograms who “man” ship look like Rios but all have different personalities, and accents. Honestly, goofy but funny.

Demons of the past rear their heads. Rios struggles with the traumatic moment that led to his leaving Starfleet, and Seven of Nine resists the seductive power of the one true ring, that is, the chance to be a Borg queen. Sadly, whilst Rios’ story convinced, enhanced by a powerful pep talk from Picard, Seven’s was played out with insufficient real peril and thus was robbed of any weight it should have had. Picard has returned to form: rushing the conclusion to plot threads and leaving us with no real emotional pay-off.

After the previous three excellent episodes, this felt like a return to inconsequentialism and exposition. However, it zips along so fast, and we’re so involved in the characters and central storyline, that we almost don’t care. This was tightly written, which is meant both as a compliment and as a criticism; “Broken Pieces” felt like a means to an end rather than also being an end in itself, like the second film in a trilogy. And thus, despite its strengths, it was notably weaker than our more recent outings.

Much intrigue and some fascinating plot developments, but in the rush to the season finale, “Broken Pieces” incompletely tells a story of its own, this episode serving more to structurally set up the series ender. Only juicy action is left to paper over the cracks in the incomplete and fragmented plotting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E3 “The End Is The Beginning” Review @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… Cristóbal Rios, a cynical old space dog who’s swallowed a fermented case of sour grapes …

Star Trek: Picard Episode 3, “The End Is The Beginning”, ups the stakes with a Romulan prophecy, plenty of juicy action sequences, and the forming of a kind of Fellowship of the Ring led by our Frodo-cum-Gandalf lead, Jean Luc.

In general, we warm to our motley collection of newly assembled ring-bearers. However, there were some slightly forced moments, such as Raffi (Picard’s former first officer) constantly calling Picard “JL”; we got the point that they’re close the first fifteen times she cracks out this cutesy name. It seems we’re often supposed to care about the characters for no good reasons other than such quirks and hints at history; sometimes it works, sometimes not.

The introduction of Cristóbal Rios, a cynical old space dog who’s swallowed a fermented case of sour grapes, is a great moment. I’ve been waiting for a big character to emerge in this show, and it might be him. Plus, his ship has an EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram) and an ENH (Emergency Navigation Hologram) who are both, despite being identical in appearance to our Cris, completely different and hint at being great characters in themselves, recalling one of the few high points of Star Trek: Voyager: Robert Picardo’s great portrayal of the EMH.

A disturbing scene with an ex-Borg Romulan provides much suspense and tension going into the next episode. We really get the sense that things are now set up nicely and are about to kick off in episode 4.

“The End Is The Beginning” was solid, just like episodes one and two, and it was incrementally better than episode two, which itself was incrementally better than episode one. But despite much intrigue, Star Trek: Picard has yet to really explode. But the future looks bright; the fuse appears lit, the explosion imminent. I would like to give it three-and-a-half stars, but half-stars are for fence-sitting, “not sure” fudgists.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Star Trek: Picard S1E2 “Maps and Legends” Review #100WordReview @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

Jean-Luc Picard [must] tackle it head-on — with or without the support of the Federation.

A Romulan plot appears to be afoot within the Federation which, if confirmed, would constitute an act of war. Duty and principle compel Jean-Luc Picard to tackle it head-on — with or without the support of the Federation. Episode two, “Maps and Legends”, is compelling and involves much more show and far less tell than episode one, although it does kick off with a long Dan Brown-style expository scene. Such moments are missed opportunities to build suspense. None-the-less, “Maps and “Legends” was riveting.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Star Trek: Picard S1E1 “Remembrance” Review #150WordReview @SirPatStew @StarTrekPicard

… a lot of Patrick Stewart sitting around staring into space and smiling like an avuncular but semi-senile philosopher.

It’s been twenty years since Jean-Luc Picard retired from active duty. Haunted by dreams of his friend Data, who gave his life to safe Picard’s 20 years before, and the destruction of the planet Romulus, Jean-Luc has retired to the sanctuary of his idyllic vineyard to ponder the past. But his attempts at a peaceful existence are disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious guest.

There are a couple of very nice action sequences, and a lot of Patrick Stewart sitting around staring into space and smiling like an avuncular but semi-senile philosopher. And an old foe is hinted at. But nothing much happens. Episode One, “Remembrance”, felt like the first 15 minutes stretched to fill 46.

Is this your typical Trek? No. Does “Remembrance” hint at great things to come? Yes. Did it seem slightly pointless. Also, yes. A solid and entertaining, albeit uninspiring, opener.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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