Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Irreviews: British Television, Issue I

I haven't done any kind of television rant, rave, or review in a while, so here's one for you.

Thanks to magic of Hulu, I've been catching up on shows watched by our cousins across the pond. It all started when a long-favorite show of mine (Spaced) landed on Hulu. I can't state it enough: best. sitcom. ever. And, yes, I did the fanboy thing and watched the entire series again.

That led me to a bunch of other series (strategically advertised by Hulu's placement ads).

Now, I'm no stranger to British television (I've been watching Top Gear and Graham Norton for years), but until recently, I haven't seen enough of it to get a decent cultural picture of it. Given the shows below (along with several others I've seen the past - Primeval, Spooks, etc.) I think I'm learning... and quickly. I also think that London is, as far as television is concerned, the new New York.

In other words, the quality of British television is much, much higher than ours. HBO notwithstanding.

Australian television, on the other hand... well, I'll save that for another rant.

Black Books (2000-2004, 3 series, 18 episodes)
Starring: Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Tamsin Greig
-----
Bernard Black (Moran) is an irreverent, disrespectful, deviant of a man. And he owns a book shop. Problem is, he can't be bothered to run it properly. Enter Manny (Bailey), an aloof, kind-hearted weirdo who has a propensity for business and a need for a job, room, and board. Sort of an over-the-top Odd Couple (odd threesome, really, when accounting for Fran, Bernard's oldest friend), Black Books is a riot.
Verdict: SEE it. And worship the Bernard.

The Book Group (2002-2003, 2 series, 12 episodes)
Starring: Anne Dudek, Bonnie Engstrom, Michelle Gomez, James Lance, Rory McCann, Saskia Mulder, Derek Riddell
-----
Scotland-based American ex-pat Clare Pettengill (Dudek) has trouble making friends, so she decides to form a book group in an attempt to find like-minded people. Instead, she finds a drug-addicted smart-ass, three footballers' wives who just want to get away from the grind of celebrity, a secretly gay football fan who just wants to get close to footballers, and a paraplegic aspiring writer. It's touted as a comedy, but it's not very funny. Avid American viewers might enjoy Anne Dudek (formerly of House) and the later appearance of Henry Ian Cusick (Lost).
Verdict: SKIP it.

Green Wing (2004-2006, 2 series, 17 episodes + 1 special)
Starring: Sally Breton, Oliver Chris, Olivia Colman, Michelle Gomez, Tamsin Greig, Pippa Haywood, Mark Heap, Katie Lyons, Stephen Mangan, Lucinda Raikes, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Karl Theobald, Sarah Alexander
-----
Scrubs, meet your competition from across the pond. This entirely over-the-top comedy is somehow both more cheeky and more realistic than its American cousin. The cast is perfect, the characters are insane, and it's a riot. I'll probably watch this again at some point.
Verdict: SEE it.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981, 6 episodes)
Starring: Peter Jones, Simon Jones, David Dixon, Sandra Dickinson, Mark Wing-Davey, Stephen Moore
-----
The first attempt at adapting Douglas Adams' BBC radio classic to the screen, it's arguably the best version. No, the recent film isn't as bad as people claimed and, no, you can't really state that any version is more faithful to the source material since Adams himself has rewritten the source material several times. That stated, is the BBC miniseries all that great? Maybe... but it hasn't aged well.
Verdict: If you're a fan, SEE it. Otherwise, you won't feel like you've missed anything.

Peep Show (2003-present, 7 series, 42 episodes)
Starring: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Olivia Colman, Matt King, Neil Fitzmaurice
-----
A unique sitcom told primarily from the first-person perspectives of its two main characters, Mark and Jeremy (Mitchell and Webb). Mark tries to live his life responsibly, pursuing a corporate career and studying history. Jeremy tries to live his life on the edge, pursuing music and doing a lot of drugs. The problem is, neither is any good at what they do, and role-reversals abound. What's the gimmick? Not only is the series shot first-person, it's narrated by the characters' thoughts.
Verdict: SEE it. Mitchell and Webb are hilarious.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Driving With Starbuck

Most of you know by now that I'm a dog-lover (cat-lover, too, but we're not discussing that at the moment). For a long time, I had three dogs. But, faced with the decision to pursue a career aspiration or "keeping the family together," I was forced to leave two of them. It's a decision that bothers me and will continue to do so. Hopefully, one day, I can get them back. Until that happens, though... it's just me and Starbuck.

L-R: Starbuck, Jax, Jasper - happier times

I've learned a lot about Starbuck over the past year of just him and me. You see, I initially acquired him for my then-girlfriend, who often liked to complain (playfully, of course) that she didn't have a dog that loved just her. Which was, I'll admit, true. Jax was mine (but adored the girlfriend) and Jasper was mine (but looked upon the girlfriend as his surrogate mother). She wanted a dog that was hers and hers alone.

Silly thought, yes, but I figured... why not?

So we went to a local PetSmart on a Saturday and spent some time looking at the not-great selection of dogs they had for adoption. There was Starbuck (named Skeeter - bleh - at the time), sitting in his cage, basically looking scared and curious at the same time. I could tell my girlfriend was on the fence, having something else in mind (probably a Yorky or some sort of purse-dog), but she was taken with his personality. Something about him screamed "I need you." We asked one of the workers if we could walk him around the store for a while, and that's what my girlfriend did. She probably won't admit it, but she found herself liking the guy. I told her to get him, and that I'd pay for everything. She balked at the price tag (rather hefty, I'll confess), but I said it was okay. She wanted a dog and I was more than willing to get her one (I will, however, also confess to being apprehensive about getting a third dog... keep in mind that, at that time, we also had six - SIX - cats).

Wondering where his mother is...

Long-story short, she took him home and he latched onto her like glue. Point of fact was that he was scared of me. It was revealed to us, both by the adoption worker and by the dog's behavior, that he was severely beaten by his previous owner. He avoided me like the plague, going so far to beg, scratch, and whine at the bedroom door whenever my girlfriend closed it. We had an on-again, off-again rule pertaining to no pets in the bedroom, and while we broke it often anyway, she always broke it for Starbuck.

Yeah, fine... he was hers. I'd pretend to argue, but I didn't really care. She loved that dog more than, again, she'd probably admit.

Over the years, we moved around a lot and my girlfriend took off for home, leaving me with Starbuck. It bothered him greatly, at first, but eventually he came around to trusting me. I can now raise my hand, sweep the floor with a broom, and put him in a vehicle without him freaking out (he used to throw up in cars... I'm thinking his previous owner locked him in the trunk or something).

So, another long-story short, Starbuck - the dog I didn't really want - became mine. He was stubborn, smart (showing a strange knack for escaping and problem-solving in general), and altogether loveable. He was reunited with my ex for a while, and it was clear that he (along with the other two dogs) remembered her fondly (which she'll deny... but I had a howling German Shepherd to prove it). The reunion didn't last very long, and he was mine alone once again.

Then came the decision to move for my career. I could only bring one dog with me. Jasper, the Shepherd, was too big and too loud. Jax (my preference, since I had him the longest) couldn't go, since there was already a dog living where I'd be moving to, and she wasn't spayed (Jax still has his nuts). So, by default, I took Starbuck... fearing countless escapes and altogether bad behavior.

Only... it never happened. Yes, he escaped from a gated, concrete-and-brick-walled yard the first week there, but as he was alone (without his escape buddy, Jax), he generally stuck around. He became my best friend. I found I could walk him around town without a leash. I found he got along with other dogs extremely well, even whining when he could smell a German Shepherd or other large dog (I'm guessing he initially thinks they're Jasper). I found he was a good companion for my cats (although maybe not my squirrels). I found, truly, I had a good and loyal friend. A dog I was never even supposed to have.

Caught in the act...

Now, one of things I used to do with all three dogs was go on drives, hikes, and road-trips in general. They used to ride happily in the back of my pickup, enjoying each other's company in anticipation of the adventures ahead. Obviously, without the other two, riding in the back is now lonely proposition.

So... I started letting Starbuck ride in the passenger seat up front. Not an easy decision, mind you, as cleaning his white hair on my charcoal gray upholstered seats is not something to look forward to. But I just couldn't leave him by himself.

That's when I discovered his fear of driving at night. Oh, he's tip-top and blissful during the day, but oncoming headlights terrify him. And I do mean terrify. He flinches at their passing, sometimes even hiding on the floorboard. Very often, if you look carefully as I drive by, I'll have my hand over his eyes so he doesn't freak out. It's pathetic, I know, but I can't bear the thought of him again becoming afraid of an activity that he, not so very long ago, had gotten over his fear of.

What else can I do but engage in a modified form of peek-a-boo with oncoming traffic?

 He's not just sticking his head out the driver's side...
he's fucking driving.

And you know what? I couldn't care less. He's an awesome dog. I used to mock-complain about how my girlfriend should come take him off my hands (three dogs is expensive, you know), but she'd have to shoot me to get him back now.

That stated, he's still a stubborn bastard, getting into trouble whenever and however he can. I got the mugshot to prove it:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

More Squirrel! And Cats!

Some of you (the three of you who bother to come here) might remember me raving about an adopted squirrel a couple of months ago. Well... there's been some... er... developments on the little bugger's life.

And, well... I sort of recorded the... er... Let's just say I'm a fan of the nature videographer's ethic that one shouldn't interfere in the chaos of nature.

The dark cat on the left is Sagremor. The white cat on the right (the killer) is Kay. Apparently, they're like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.



Here comes the carnage...



All right, all right. Nothing happened. Except for Sagremor literally lying down a few moments later and going to sleep. I did have to chase Kay away... he was getting a little too curious.

At any rate, about a month after those videos were taken, I went outside to feed the squirrel and was welcomed with a bit of a surprise.



I have to point out that the voice-over is wrong... we actually had met both squirrels. In fact, upon remembering the day I pointed out he was getting fat, it dawned on us... we'd been feeding the wrong squirrel. The revelation of which also solved the mystery as to why our baby squirrel was so schizophrenic (the newer squirrel is rather aggressive and has bit me twice).



And to top it off, we realized that our previous disagreements as to whether it was a boy or a girl were moot. Fatso is a boy. The original one is a girl. She's a sweetheart.



Now we're just afraid they're going to mate, and we're going to wind up the godparents of an entire squirrel colony.

Ah, well... it could be worse.

Irreview, Book Review: The Nutshell Technique

I have, to date, read well over two dozen books on screenwriting and its related mediums (theatre, specifically).  While most - if not all -...