Tuesday, 29 October 2013



BBC1, 9pm, 28 October 2013











DI Reid's Victorian heroes return to wreak havoc on the Whitechapel underworld. Their only weapons are slow-motion action sequences, arty cinematography and the Elephant Man.

You can tell it’s autumn because the TV channels are trotting out their big drama shows, either new ones or returning favourites. Promoted from Sunday to the primetime Monday night slot, Ripper Street is rather appealing because if Sam Peckinpah had directed Downton Abbey, it would surely look like this.

Watching a first scene that has a Victorian policeman smash through a window to be impaled on iron railings, you know the next eight Monday nights are going to be lively. Ripper Street is the anti-Abbey: whereas ITV trots out (increasingly dull) theme park history, the BBC opts for a roll in the historical gutter. The grimy mise en scene emphasises bloody wounds, poverty, sex and slo-mo violence. Whoever did the casting is a genius, as all the actors look like they’ve stepped straight out of a Dickens novel’s illustrations.

The set up is that Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), his sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn, successfully rehabilitated after the crimes of the Robson and Jerome years) and cigar chewing American doctor Captain Homer Jackson (the sardonic Adam Rothenberg, keeping the overseas salesmen happy) deal with the criminal elements of Whitechapel in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders. Reid was a real person, but there the connection with reality ceases. Although the love of seedy historical realism might suggest a British Deadwood, the different inflections in Ripper Street’s incidental music – Western, thriller, action show – pin point the series’ gleeful mixing of genres in a Victorian setting. This always makes for an entertaining brew, even if it’s not always that demanding a watch.

The interesting thing about the show is that every 19th century innovation that comes along is shown to be corruptible: synthesised drugs, London’s underground railway and the kinematograph, among other things, have all been the fulcrum of the series’ plots. (It’s weirdly similar to when Life on Mars, shown in the same Monday slot, would showcase The 1970s Issue of The Week). Last night, the villains invented heroin with the co-operation of a Chinese concubine, which was a good excuse for London bobbies to be trounced in frenetically edited martial arts sequences. That’s another thing: Ripper Street is without a doubt the most violent British TV series for a long time. Presumably it gets away with it because it’s set in the past?

Because the whole thing is so heightened, I can live with the anachronisms – I don’t think Reid would have ever used the phrase ‘reverse engineered’, let alone known what it means – but serious lapses in plotting is another thing. All last night’s arty direction and authentic period grime couldn’t hide a hole in the plot that you could have driven a hansom cab through: you don’t tell your chief suspect that one of his injured men is going to make a statement against him, particularly when Reid should have known the crim was likely was to go straight round and shoot the bewilderingly unguarded informer full of a lethal dose of heroin. Even the normally dependable Macfadyen looked like he couldn’t quite believe the dialogue he was required to say.

That said, on its past form Ripper Street is appealing enough to keep me in front of the box for the next two months of Mondays. Although Reid claims to uphold the law, last night he admitted that he can make it up as he goes along. As the man is getting his laundry done by the local brothel madam, the wonderfully named Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) and his wife has left him, Reid is clearly on the edge, so it will be intriguing to see if his Judge Dredd complex is developed. There’s also a great new recurring villain, the equally wonderfully monikered Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle – another made up name, surely?)

It may not be Breaking Bad, but Ripper Street consistently entertains as great, grubby fun.

Monday, 28 October 2013

LOU REED tribute



Farewell to the diarist of depravity who had a brilliantly drawling vocal style, which could be sneering or fragile depending on what the song required.


"Hey babe..." You know the rest. (Image: Mick Rock)

I couldn’t believe the news about Lou when I got up and put the TV on this morning. Despite his legendary drug abuse in the past, I always thought he’d be around for a lot longer, perhaps because if you put on any Velvet Underground song it still sounds modern; last week’s episode of Misfits had a song by him on the soundtrack. Despite his equally legendary grumpiness, somehow Lou didn’t seem old at all.

The man blessed with a head that was made to look cool wrapped in a stylish pair of black shades influenced so many musicians I like: Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Mick Ronson and just about everyone at CBGBs and Max’s in the early 1970s. Who can forget Ronson and Bowie’s cracking live version of Reed’s VU standard ‘White Light/White Heat’ on the Ziggy tour, the mono drone of Television and Talking Heads’ David Byrne inheriting Reed’s gift for lyrical paranoia on ‘Psycho Killer’?

Around 50% of British punk, New Wave and indie were in debt to Reed too. The Skids did a storming version of ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, Simple Minds’ first incarnation, Johnny and the Self Abusers, had a very Reedesque debut single called ‘Saints and Sinners’ which started them on their singular musical journey (seven years later, the Minds covered ‘Street Hassle’ on their sixth LP Sparkle in the Rain). On the Sweet Dreams tour the Euryhthmics did a blinding ‘Satellite of Love’ in the middle of their set, while The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Primitives, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, plus a hundred other indie bands dressed in skinny black jeans and shades that we’ve forgotten, wouldn’t have had a career without the VU’s first four albums.

Like all the best stars, Reed was a difficult soul. Problems his health and his complicated relationship with Andy Warhol and the other Velvets aside, he could be endearingly unprofessional. My favourite concert story about him is one a friend from Manchester told me. Playing the city at the height of punk, he stumbled on stage during the first song and promptly collapsed. Curtain. An MC came out and attempted to pacify the audience by saying that he was sure everyone had enjoyed themselves as they’d ‘seen Lou.’ Some nights that was the best you could hope for.

Having said that, it was great to see that he had the strength to shrug off his popular reputation as a Rimbaud-like diarist of depravity who, like Bowie and Iggy, was often as out of his head as the characters in his songs. Like Bowie and Iggy, he seemed a bit lost for a lot of the 1980s; I remember him looking famously awkward in the video for the upbeat rocker ‘I Love You Suzanne’, a good commercial tune that was more John Cougar Mellencamp that the Lou Reed of old. Like his two younger friends, he’d got it back together by the end of the decade and come up with New York, such a return to form that I wondered for a while if it was something he’d written in the early 1970s and dusted off.

As a songwriter he was more honest than Bowie and romanticised things less than Iggy. Holly, Candy, Sugar Plum Fairy and Jacqui were all real people he’d met and apart from his chronicles of the wild side of New York, he could be a devastatingly clever lyricist. ‘Perfect Day’ is a beautiful song with a melancholy musical arrangement about spending the day with a close friend, until you discover it’s actually about being dependent on heroin; its genius is that it works both ways. (I’ll bet the old grump secretly fell about laughing when the BBC chose it as one of their charity anthems.) I can’t sit through Berlin any more but there’s no doubting the visceral sincerity of it, while ‘Sweet Jane’, as well having one of the greatest rolling riffs ever committed to vinyl, is an inspiringly twisted love song.

What’s less often acknowledged about Reed is that away from the by now clich├ęd feedback fuzz that lazy journalists thought was the only shot in his locker, he was open-minded musically. ‘Goodnight Ladies’ sounds like an outtake from the Weimar Republic big band sound of Cabaret, while elsewhere Lou’s musical palette was enriched by the addition of French horns, woodwind and acoustic bass.

Modern popular music (1970s-2000) wouldn’t be the same without Reed, Iggy or Bowie. Lou’s strength was that he always told it like it was, from the hedonistic rush of ‘Heroin’ to making peace with an estranged friend on Songs for Drella. And his influence still lingers: you can hear him in the lyrics of the seedy, chemical-fuelled late-night sketches so effectively drawn by the Arctic Monkeys on this year’s album AM.

My mum has never heard of Lou Reed and never will now. Which is exactly how it should be.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

MISFITS review



E4, 10pm, 23 October 2013

... no, it's a bunch of chavs doing Community Service. Or is it?
(Image: E4)

Misfits is back and the nation's favourite group of delinquents are on top form.

Misfits is quietly brilliant. For those of you who don’t know, it’s about – as the title specifies – a bunch of twenty-something chavs on Community Service. Who just happen to have special powers. Rudy (the brilliant Joseph Gilgun) can literally split himself in two, Finn (Nathan McCullen) can levitate objects badly and Alex (Matt Stokoe), the ‘Handsome Barman’, has ‘the chance to use my cock for good’, shagging girls and boys until climaxing releases a healing power. I’m not au fait with the powers of Jess (Carla Crome) and Abbey (Natasha O’Keefe), but as you might have guessed from reading this, the series is the Chaucer version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: still very funny but a lot ruder.

I’d watched the occasional one in the past. The episode that sticks in my mind the most is the one with an altered timeline where the Nazis had won the Second World War. Typically for the programme’s dry, deadpan sense of humour, not much had changed on the misfits’ strangely under-populated (apart from the local bar) council estate.

Still written by creator Howard Overman and beginning its final series, last night Misfits excelled itself. A group of Boy Scouts harbouring the Devil (yes, Boy Scouts – with girls, and communally singing ‘Wonderwall’, which is obviously a sign of demonic possession) gradually took over our dysfunctional heroes until Alex had to save the day by shagging Finn free of Satan. At the same time, a mysterious woman (Ruth Sheen) who’s able to ‘knit the future’ (sending up Heroes), established the concluding series’ story arc by knitting Rudy a jumper that showed the misfits behaving like real superheroes.

As with Buffy and Being Human, supernatural gifts are a metaphor for the emotional development of the main characters, but what’s refreshing about Misfits is that the superpowers are almost incidental and are mainly there as comedy metaphors for the emotionally immature twenty-somethings. Finn was unable to clout the demon Scoutmaster with a fire extinguisher and flung a bar of soap at him instead. In a slapstick twist, the villain slipped on it and fatally cracked his head open. The aforementioned Super Shag resulted in a laugh out loud gem of dialogue, as Alex gave Finn a good sorting while a boggling Jess watched: ‘I was shagging the Devil out of yer, it was the only way, and I was doing it for her!

Compared to Being Human, Misfits has no pretensions to being significant and the format is pleasingly loose. If a character leaves, another comes in, does something antisocial and is put on probation with the Community Service team, rather than undergoing the contrived manoeuvres to replace the regular cast that hampered Being Human. Having said that, there is an earthy lyricism to Misfits that’s very affecting. The council estate setting of grey tower blocks and a moribund community centre is fitting as, like drugs and alcohol, superpowers are portrayed as a modern problem. This was alluded to very cleverly and poetically last night, as Rudy 2 joined a support group for people trying to come to terms with their supernatural talents.

My main recommendation for Misfits, though, is that it’s bloody hilarious. The visual and vocal humour is top notch. Overman may struggle when constrained by a family drama like Atlantis, but let loose after the watershed he’s a genius. Among many brilliant one-liners, my favourite last night was Rudy’s comment that his dad always said ‘women are like tractors. Which I have never understood.’ There was a great moment as the drama and the humour combined when Jess confronted the possessed Finn in the bar and tried to exorcise him with Holy Water – unfortunately, it was Sprite.

The next month or so of Wednesday nights belongs to E4, and at some point I’ll be investing in the Misfits back catalogue. But Christmas adverts before the end of October? Please!

Saturday, 12 October 2013




Everywhere on the planet, Friday 11 October 2013





























Why I won't be watching 'The Enemy of the World' and 'The Web of Fear' any time soon.


Of course, it's brilliant news. Seeing nine missing episodes of Patrick Troughton's Doctor Who announced to the world this morning was truly wonderful. The YouTube trailers are amazing. Troughton drawing languidly and stylishly on a cigar like the Bond-villain-that-should-have-been Salamander in 'The Enemy of the World'; the film noir-claustrophobia of sets with ceilings in 'The Web of Fear', together with the creepy model work of the foam advancing through the tunnels of the Underground, that I remember so well from being a wide-eyed four year-old. And, as ever, a joy to hear Toby Hadoke's opinions, after he stayed up all night to watch the stories, bouncing around on the Breakfast Time sofa like a wee boy who's had his whole list of presents delivered on Christmas morning.


In today's instantaneous media culture, you could download all the episodes just after midnight. It goes without saying that a lot of people are watching them as you read this and may have phoned in sick to stay home and watch them (allegedly), and that's great. But, for me, this instant gratification is a bit of a shame. I've waited forty-six years to see these gems again, so what's another six weeks and three-and-a-bit-months?

'The Enemy of the World' is out on DVD on 25 November. I want to walk into HMV (if I can find one that's still open), marvel at seeing this long-thought-lost classic in the racks, pore over the cover and booklet and cuddle up on the sofa to watch the DVD - complete with extras - in the living room, on the telly, in a similar environment to the one I'd have first watched the episodes in all those years ago. 


That means a few weeks and months of thinking gleefully about the clips I've seen, marveling at friends' ecstatic reactions, going back to the reference books for analysis and comment and watching all the other Troughton DVDs as an appetiser. If these are the only nearly complete stories that we're ever going to see from the 1960s in the 21st century - and what are the odds on any others being found after this, I wonder - why rush?


Some things are definitely worth waiting for.