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RIP Bravo 1985-2010; the death of a true icon of British television.

16 Sep

One of the first non-terrestrial channels in the UK, the often risqué men’s brand Bravo, has been cast aside by new owners Sky in a recent channel shake-up after the succesful buy-out of the channel (and others) from Virgin Media.

It’s a seemingly quick-thinking, corporate decision that brings to an end a channel that’s been synonymous with softcore porn and gritty masculine shows since the days Thatcher was in charge and TV channels were run using videotapes and aerials. And it’s over that 25 years that this television brand did something that many must have thought was impossible – they transformed the word ‘bravo’ from just a word rich people in tops hats use to congratulate each other into something that resonates and completely defines what it means to be a ‘Burly British Bloke’.

In recent months the channel has gone through a significant rebrand, with a new logo and tagline (replacing the original ‘entertaining men since 1985’) which I think you’ll agree is a definite modernisation (and improvement) on the retro one at the top of the article:

So whether it’s a rushed, ill-though out decision that should be re-thought or the end of the brand that was tiring (even though the recent success of Spartacus: Blood & Sand and the recent acquisition of Hawaii Five-0 suggests not) remains to be seen. I personally can’t think of another channel that has the succinct brand identity for edgy male-aimed content, so the excuse from Sky that Bravo ‘is too similar to Sky 1’ is laughable – on a graph showing age and sex (with bubbles for each channel, with female channel Living the opposite end from Bravo) the bubble of Bravo and Sky 1 are next to each other, but the two channels show very different content. If you added a similarly younger male brand Dave into the mix it would fall right on top of Bravo, but they clearly attract very different audience (to put it simply, Dave attracts a high socio-economic class of people generally – Dave is obsessed with Stephen Fry and Bravo with Danny Dyer).

Could you imagine Dog The Bounty Hunter on Dave? Exactly. There’s a greater context that Sky seems to have ignored, and a huge chasm of content that will have no natural home any more.

But in memory of Bravo, here are some of the best (and worst) shows that makes Bravo the second most recognised  entertainment multi-channel name in television today:

I’ll admit I needed Wikipedia to tell me about the ‘really’ early days of Bravo, but apparently the channel began as a mostly black-and-white venture. It showed repeats of The Avengers (above) and The Prisoner. In the nineties it moved into horror and science fiction, with naughty content later at night, which has slowly moulded into the channel we see today (though if you’re reading this in 2011 then I guess the end of that sentence doesn’t make sense).

It’s the guilty pleasure of old repeats that cemented Bravo’s place as a daytime favourite, and A-Team was one of the shows that was seemingly endlessly repeated but was a nice one-stop place for any need for explosions and cheesy dialogue. Other brilliantly aged shows that were / are a staple on Bravo includes:

  • Airwolf
  • Knight Rider
  • Dukes Of Hazard
  • The Detectives
  • Starsky & Hutch
  • MacGyver
  • The New Adventures Of Superman (I know it’s nineties but that has aged wonderfully too)

Bravo was one of the only channels to really connect with a gaming audience (after Channel 4’s foray in the nineties with Gamesmaster and the embarrassing Sky 1 attempt ‘Gamezville’). A selection of the gaming shows that Bravo shows, usually on weekend mornings includes:

  • Gamepad
  • When Games Attack (with the brilliant Dominik Diamond)
  • Playr
  • A Gamers Guide To…
  • Gameface

Yes, there’s been quite a few but no other channel has fully committed to ‘trying’ to attract gamers like Bravo. I always thought, with a bit more of a budget, that the sister channel Bravo 2 would be the perfect place to have a gaming channel (and not one of those terrible foreign funded ones from the past, with presenters speaking in broken english around old trailers).

Monster Trucks!

Arguably the face of Bravo in the last five years or so, tough-as-nails ‘Dog’ (woof) and his motley crew of bounty hunters stalk the criminals (and often the innocent) of Hawaii (a small group of islands with, apparently, a large proportion of bad people). This show has shown a miraculous 7,500 times since 2002 (the most of any show on the channel, since ’02 at least).

Bravo has been pretty much the only channel to give a home to some of the absolute gems that has sprung out of Adult Swim and Comedy Central in recent years. Although FX has recently picked up the rights to Adult Swim, well for three of the biggest shows, Bravo went the proper step of dedicating all the late-night content to the ten minute long episodes of shows that would not normally find a home anywhere else on UK television (usually crude and not-at-all commercially sellable animations).

Some of the shows that Bravo have shown from Adult Swim (unbeknown to most people, which meant ratings were so low they had to drop it) include:

  • Frisky Dingo (pictured above)
  • Moral Orel
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force
  • Sealab 2021
  • Robot Chicken
  • Venture Bros.
  • Harvey Birdman
  • Squidbillies
  • Tom Goes To The Mayor
  • Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!

Most of these are shows worth seeing that the team at Bravo wanted to expose to the limited audience who would enjoy them. They even tried anime (like Afro Samurai) too – another genre with such limited appeal, and with nearly no chance of a real reward in terms of ratings or ad revenue, but it was catering to an audience the Bravo team seem determined to deliver content to that they love.

Bravo (and Bravo 2) has also not shied away from showing sporting content (and any channel aimed at the male audience usually goes down this alley, as Dave’s association with World Rally has shown). TNA: Impact is a regular peak-time show at weekends, as well as taking up a lot of Bravo 2’s current line-up, and the new seasons of Ultimate Fighter and other UFC content were often shared with (the now non-existent) Setanta. Bravo also recently paid host to the World Darts Championship and also attempted to bring back Football Italia a few years ago (it bombed though, sadly).

Seriously, Monster Trucks!

Don’t they just make you want to go ‘raaaaaaaaa!!!‘?

Classic sci-fi has also been a staple on Bravo, especially with the (relatively) recent co-rights the channel has with the Star Trek brand. It’s Channel One (formally Virgin 1, which is also getting killed off by Sky) has taken the brunt of the content and repeated it to no end (with many now seeing Channel One only as ‘the channel with Star Trek repeats and Chuck’), but Bravo has aired the galactic adventures of Spock as well as a number of other sci-fi shows including:

  • Babylon 5
  • Battlestar Galactica (original series)
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
  • The Outer Limits
  • Earth: Final Conflict
  • Battle Of The Planets

Bravo has never shied away from showing the gritty and stark reality of ‘the normal bloke’, and they don’t portray it in the judgemental way that many do (looking at you Daily Mail). Shows like Street Crime UK show louts on the streets of Britain and teaches us all, in a strangely watchable way, the things that many of the actual viewers would probably partake in the next night. The channel also seems to have a massive respect for our national services – police especially – and revels in portraying them on television in a realistic manner.

The guys at Bravo seem to have sat down, compiled their research and found the programme genres that would best appeal to the type of ‘bloke’ that is so often misrepresented and bullied (in a sense) by the mainstream media.

One quote I’ll always remember from a scheduler at Bravo, about what types of shows they consider buying, is: “Sharks. Sharks always rate well on Bravo.”

Some of the shows that Bravo shows around cops and thugs and general loutish-ness:

  • Cops Uncut
  • Booze Britain
  • Cops On Camera: Disorderly Conduct
  • Costa Del Street Crime
  • Brit Cops: Frontline Crime
  • Beach Patrol
  • Sun, Sea and A&E
  • Brits Behind Bars: America’s Toughest Jails
  • Motorway Patrol
  • Surf Patrol
  • 24 Hour Booze Britain: Boozageddon? (actual title)

We had to talk about it because, well, it just isn’t Bravo without a bit of smut.

It’s not just ‘porn’ that Bravo is renowned for, hell that would be boring (Channel 5’s first few years of late-night softcore porn was the savior of most kids born in the late eighties), but some very ‘out there’ programming that would honestly have no other place on UK television. It would be no surprise to pass Bravo on the EPG and notice they are airing ‘My God, I’m My Dad!’ or ‘3001: A Sexy Odyssey’ (both of those are actual titles of Bravo shows).

Some of the erotic and weird series that’s featured on Bravo over the years have included:

  • Laid Bare
  • Eurotrash: The Sexy Bits
  • Sin Cities
  • Das Crazy Sex Show
  • Porno Valley
  • Vegas Virgins
  • Inside Spearmint Rhino
  • Striperella
  • Is That A Nail In Your Head?

And some of the brilliantly dishy and oddball sounding movies that have appeared on the channel include:

  • The Pleasure Planet
  • Femalien II
  • The Exotic Time Machine
  • The Virgins Of Sherwood Forest
  • The Exhibitionist Files
  • Dangerous Sex Games
  • 13 Erotic Ghosts
  • Naked Encounters

And a further plethora of similarly racy names (or bad puns on normal movie titles). With the end of Bravo (and Men & Motors) this type of late-night steamy action leaves, pretty much, the subscriptions channels and the internet the only place for worked up teenagers to find out ‘things’ in the midst of wooden acting, cheesy music and plots that are purely strung together to roughly connect sex scenes.

Big names (well, by ‘big’ I mean ‘quite well known’) have also associated themselves with Bravo. The two most notable are Danny Dyer (who presented various shows including ‘Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men’ and ‘The Real Football Factories’) and Alex Reid (Katy Price’s other half, who has signed up to do various fighting-type shows this year – culminating in a live fight sometime in the next couple of months), showing that the brand has resonance for celebrities looking to up their presence on TV but would simply not be looked at on a ‘bigger’ network…

Seriously, is there anything more manly than Monster Trucks though? Bravo are the only channel to my knowledge that shows monster truck content on British TV to any decent extent (1,500 episodes since 2002), and although it’s not really my cup of tea (I’m not masculine enough for it) it’s just one of those charmingly raw, noisy and dirty things that completely exemplifies what Bravo stands for.

And lastly, Bravo’s reputation has peaked in the last year or so thanks to a re-energized team who were determined to modernize the channel, commission some ‘quality’ content and attract a wider audience. It began tentatively with Leverage, the American drama that is much like Hustle, which has been a runaway success on the channel. The big, big game-changer for Bravo has been, of course, Spartacus: Blood & Sand. Averaging over 700k for each episode, well above anything previously seen on the channel, it has transformed Bravo into a channel to be reckoned with – and with the recent acquisition of Hawaii Five-0, one of the biggest new shows of the US television season, it looked like this rebirth of the brand was to continue unabated.

That is, until the beast of Sky came in…

There’s never been a channel like it before and, to be honest, I don’t think there ever will be again.  The content of Bravo will be sifted off to other broadcasters )in a mish-mash way probably) and will probably never be given the exposure that Bravo offered so many shows to bloom with. My guess is that much of the content will be thrown on to Sky 2 (currently a time-shift channel for Sky 1, basically), Sky 3 or FX, which I imagine a board of suit-wearing directors at Sky must see as a great idea – they don’t seem to realise the brand of ‘Bravo’, even just the name, is important and should be treasured.

But alas…

Bravo – we salute you!


The new TV season is nearly here; your daily guide on the shows to watch…

14 Sep

It’s been a long summer of little TV – though thanks to off-season episodes of Burn Notice and The Good Guys it wasn’t completely sparse – but the major shows are returning to American and British TV screens very soon (nearly all of these on the list air from next week, some have already started and a couple start in a month or so).

Some shows, like Dexter on Showtime, will show in the States in the next two weeks but not make an appearance in the UK for at least another year. But for those super-fans who are eager to not have shows spoiled, by those damned natives who get the show at the time of airing, we find ways to watch them the day after they air. Maybe one day channels in the UK will respond and ditch the silly out-dated gaps between airing episodes of the shows that are so reliant on twists and turns – but that argument is best left for another article.

So although I’m very aware there are similar lists like this elsewhere on the net, this is a day-by-day guide of the shows that some may miss without a prod in the right direction (and it’s an utter fluke I found out about some of these shows making a return, like Eastbound & Down). If I’ve missed any shows that you think are worth adding to this list then shoot over an email to and shout at me to add it.

Click on any of the pictures to see them in glorious full size.


The Inbetweeners: Season 3 – E4

Possibly one of the shows most sought after at the moment, thanks to the pure simple genius of the first two series. The simple premise of four fairly unpopular kids at a school in a decidedly middle-class part of Britain, complete with many many references to ‘clunge’, ‘flange’ and ‘muff’ provide probably the most accurate portrayal of 18 year old males ever recorded – with hilarious results. It’s a simple premise done fantastically well and not too much needs to be said about the return of arguably the best comedy currently still airing in the UK today.

The Big C: Season 1 – Showtime

As of tonight, The Big C is at episode four and has been consistently good in the three episodes that have so far gone out on Showtime. Laura Linney is a shoe-in for the Best Actress Emmy if she keeps this up, and the rest of the cast are consistently good too. Although the whole ‘cancer’ thing doesn’t seem the most appealing thing to lounge back and watch, and I’d totally agree, but this is definitely this year’s ‘Cougar Town’ – seemingly soft and feminist on the surface, but actually strangely light-hearted and quality if you dig a little deeper and stick with it.

Chuck: Season 4 – NBC (and Channel One in the UK)

I’ll admit I’m only at the start of season two of Chuck, a definite late-comer, but if it’s as good now than the episodes I’m up to then in a few weeks I’ll be definitely looking forward to new episodes. It’s not particularly clever or gripping, but it’s solid entertainment – you can’t ask for much more than that.

House: Season 7 – Fox (and Sky 1 in the UK)

I can’t believe the procedural adventures of Gregory House has gone on for six seasons and near 150 episodes, baffling. And this seventh season kicks off in only a week, with the slight twist at the end of the last season sure to provide a different dynamic for this season. I’m not looking forward to it as much as I was last season’s premiere, which was the brilliantly done hour and a half episode in the psychiatric hospital, but the show has been an absolute must-watch since season one and I’ve no doubt the latest season will be equally as good.

The Event: Season 1 – NBC (and picked up by Channel 4 in the UK)

This could still go either way, and with confirmation that ‘the event’ (so annoyingly mentioned in the promo) involves aliens, I am left perplexed whether this will be any good. It’ll take a few episodes to find out – as the other alien invasion drama ‘V’ demonstrated last year – but I’d suggest that if Channel 4 were willing to drop big bucks for it then this could be half decent (let’s not forget they were the ones who introduced Lost and The West Wing to the UK). But another alien invasion drama, hmm..

Adventure Time: Season 1 – Cartoon Network

Yes, I know it’s a cartoon and shouldn’t be in the same category as shows such as House and The Event, but Adventure Time truly is a diamond in the rough when it comes to children’s TV cartoon’s that cater and entertain adults just as much as the kids. Creator Pendleton Ward writes beautiful ten minute tales about the eccentric adventures of Finn and his dog Jake, often with simple but deceivingly truthful and worthwhile morals. If you’re still unsure whether this shows deserves your ten minutes a week, check out the episode entitled ‘Business Time’ or ‘Tree Trunks’ – both of them show the surprising genius in the show.


This Is England ’86: Series 1 – Channel 4

It’s a good little run for Channel 4 at the moment; they’ve ended the criminally tired Big Brother, they have a new series of The Inbetweeners, they’ve snagged the most sought after new American drama from under Sky’s nose (The Event) and now this – four hour long episodes set three years after the brilliant movie This Is England, bringing back the original cast and director to boot. The first episode aired last week and, if I’m honest, wasn’t exactly all I’d hoped for. It’s slow-burning over this extended period (whilst the film managed to cram in a whole grim 80’s British world in an hour and a half) but I’m hoping things will pick up in the last three episodes. Essential viewing, and this is another example of how movies and TV are narrowing the gap in terms of quality and cast.

Glee: Season 2 – Fox (and Channel 4 / E4 in the UK)

Most of us have watched it, and some went in utterly convinced they were going to hate it but were won over by the self-aware humour and catchy songs. Well, thankfully, it’s back. I do wonder how they’re going to keep this up for much more than a season or two, especially as the cast are at ages where their appearances will change quite quickly, but I’m happy for an hour a week of cheesy cover songs (and I usually hate musicals).

Raising Hope: Season 1 – Fox (and picked up by Sky 1 in the UK)

The funniest comedy of the new season (even better than the one written by the cast of Arrested Development, Running Wilde, that plays after it) is Raising Hope, the story of how one deadbeat guy and his family are left with the daunting job of looking after a baby (named, yes, Hope). It’s by the creator of My Name Is Earl, a show I personally wasn’t a massive fan of, and it’s much sharper and should appeal to any self-appreciating comedy fan. Bound to be one of the best received comedies of the new season.

Running Wilde: Season 1 – Fox

From the writing team of Arrested Development, and starring Will Arnett (Gob in AD) as… basically the same character as in Arrested Development, but with more money. I’ve seen the pilot and it’s ‘good’ but left me a little empty, with some of the jokes falling flat (not helped that the best bits are in the promo). But this is going to be worth seeing just for the moments of genius we know the writers can produce. This hasn’t been picked up in the UK yet (Arrested Development has never rated at all, so I doubt this will be touched by a network) so whether this will last more than season remains to be seen…

Sons Of Anarchy: Season 3 – FX (and on Bravo in the UK)

This is apparently as good as Sopranos, although I’ve sadly had no time to find out if this is true. But the motorbikes and gangs drama is into it’s third season and promises the same bowt of revved engine frollicks of the past. I must check this out one day, but countless reviews tell me this is worth adding to the list.

Caprica: Season 1 – Syfy (and Sky 1 in the UK)

The concluding half of Caprika has been brought forward to October 5th, which is good news for all those sci-fi fans out there who need their weekly dose of galactic policitics. As you may have read on this post I have yet to see Battlestar Gallactica, so I still have some way before I can dip into this. But if it’s half as good as Battlestar Galactica, which numerous friends are convinced is the best show ever, then I will consume this one of these days / years.


South Park: Season 14 – Comedy Central

The second half of the currently ‘quite’ strong Season 14 continues at the start of October. The double episode ‘200’ made up for a few duff episodes in the previous season, but the episode that followed it (possibly in response to the censoring by the network) was painfully bad – hopefully there’ll be no more of that in the upcoming episodes. And more Randy!

Outlaw: Season 1 – NBC

After brilliant performances in The West Wing and Dexter, my slight man-crush on Jimmy Smits continues with this political drama. The promo doesn’t look like the most interesting thing ever, but I am confident it’ll be an intelligent drama with solid performances – and after Glee the previous night, I’m happy to soak in some ‘proper’ TV that may teach me a thing or two.

The Whole Truth: Season 1 – ABC

I thought this legal drama seemed really interesting from the promo, as we follow both sides of the courtroom and not actually find out which one ‘wins’ or is ‘right’ until the end. I’m intrigued that the viewer is part of the jury, in a sense, and only finds out whether the defendant actually ‘did it’ at the end. It’s a different spin on a genre I have a soft spot for, and although there’s been casting mix-ups (Maura Tierney, best known in ER and recently fighting off cancer, is cast after Joely Richardson dropped out – the pilot actually stars her and had to be re-filmed) but the new promo looks ‘just’ as good so I’m definitely looking forward to this.


Nikita: Season 1 – The CW (and picked up by Living in the UK)

Yes, the promo material for the show isn’t great (above) and makes it look girly and rubbish, but this is a surprisingly great drama from The CW (a channel not normally home to such solid dramas). Maggie Q is smokin’ as Nikita, a character created by Leon and Fifth Element writer and director Luc Besson, and this iteration of the story (it’s already been a movie and TV show in recent years) looks to be equally as good, if not better. So if you’ve already seen this plot pan out then give it a look to see if it is as good, and if you haven’t then this is a brilliant way to discover a story that’s so good it’s been brought back again. The pilot aired last week so you’re already behind, so catch-up quick – it’s heavy on spoilers and twists so make sure you keep up!

My Generation: Season 1 – ABC

You’re not heard of this one, right? This is probably the biggest risk being taken by a network this year, as My Generation looks from the promo like an impossible sell. But I’ve seen the pilot and I can tell you it splits the audience right in half – and I happened to be in the half that loved it. The plot follows a group of people who were in school together and, ten years later, we find out what they’re up to (and how the last decade of world events, American based mainly, have affected them). It’s fictional but shot in a documentary style and is very well acted to really suck the viewer into the drama on-screen. Anyone at University at the time the characters were (the year 2000) will find this especially affecting, I imagine, as it’s basically an ode to that generation that is just beginning to bloom into life, after using the last decade as the building blocks of a career or family. This is definitely one to see if you’re interested in a truly different drama that may not be given a chance ordinarily, and I really hope this makes it through to at least a full season.

An Idiot Abroad: Season 1 – Sky 1

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s pet chimp is travelling the world to explore the seven worders – and the Manc moaner is on top form, if the preview show is anything to go by. It begins in China, where I really hope he meets a homeless Chinese fella (he’s bound to!), and then future episodes include Egypt and Peru. This is surprisingly the show that is bound to look the best in HD too – his round head will glow orange in the sun in pixel perfect quality!

Burn Notice: Season 4 – USA Network (and on Five USA in the UK, although it’s far behind sadly)

The second half of Season 4 continues, as the adventures of Michael Western continue. To be honest, I’m not wholly sure what’s going on in terms of the greater arc of the plot, but the characters and procedural element is the reason I watch with anticipation week-after-week. Plus cool beer drinking Sam (soon to get his own prequel film!), sexy Fi (‘fee’) and the oh-so-swagger Michael are always a joy to watch…

Jersey Shore: Season 2 – MTV

It’s loved and hated in equal measure, but the ridiculous shenanigans of the folks from Jersey Shore (and now in Miami) is as strangely gripping as it ever has been. Their morals and activities may not relate to everyone but it does make great television, even if some snobs describe it as the ultimate car-crash TV ever created. They need to chill out, lie back and watch Mike, Snooks and Pauly D teach them a thing or two about ‘grenades’ and ‘smooching’.

It’s Always Sunny In California: Season 6 – FX

After five seasons and a film, the gang are back in their back in this surprisingly successful comedy from FX. I’ve seen the first two seasons and found it funny enough, well worth a half hour a week, and Danny Devito’s return to comedy is actually brilliant.


The Good Guys: Season 1 – Fox

The first few episodes of the season, a few months ago, were far from brilliant – yes. But The Good Guys has slowly grown more confident, both cast and writers, and it’s starting to blossom into a show I look forward to when it’s on. Yes, it’s got all the depth of a dishcloth (the recurring story arc is dire) but the clever time switches used for the procedural aspect of the show is well worth 40 minutes of your time a week. Plus Bradley Whitford (of The West Wing) is brilliant as a cop stuck in the eighties.

The Increasingly Poor Decision Of Todd Margaret, Series 1 – Channel 4

David Cross (best known as Tobias in Arrested Development) stars in, refreshingly, a British comedy about a hapless bloke who has the worst luck imaginable. The original pilot aired last year (almost as a test to see how it both rated and was critically received) and seems to have passed as a series continues in a couple of weeks. I didn’t find the pilot brilliant though, it was odd seeing David Cross as anything other than Tobias (or a stand-up) but the first two minutes (where he’s arrested and a judge reads out a ridiculous list of crimes he’s committed) means I’ll be returning just to see how he could possibly commit them all.


Dexter: Season 5 – Showtime (and FX in about a year)

The king has returned! After a truly brilliant season four, with an end that took most viewer’s breath away, we return to the scene of the crime and the exhaustive repercussions that are bound to arise. Michael C Hall’s portrayal of the ‘good serial killer’ is riveting, as good as Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, and the 12 episodes of Season 5 are bound to be as good as the previous four – why? Because the writing team is at a creative high, the cast are fully settled in and the plot pieces they’ve laid down for the season leave a thousand scintillating possibilities.

Boardwalk Empire: Season 1 – HBO (and picked up by Sky in the UK)

The shows that could break new boundaries between film and TV, this big budget HBO drama starring Steve Buscemi (everyone’s favourite extra) is set in the prohibition era in America and looks to be every bit as good as the hype suggests. With Martin Scorcese overlooking for quality control, and a look and atmosphere that’s going to look gorgeous in HD, this is truly breathtaking scale for a TV show and is one not to be missed…

Eastbound & Down: Season 2 – HBO

The best comedy that no-one has seen, the story of Kenny Powers is a massively under-rated comedy that first aired quietly last year on HBO. It’s been a year and a half since then and the story seems to have taken a strange turn, with seemingly most of the (well-loved) characters ditched. I’m a little nervous about this, but if the same writing team is on board then this will be absolute comedy gold.

Rubicon: Season 1 – AMC (and it’s been picked up by BBC2 / BBC4 in the UK)

I’ll admit I’ve only seen the first two episodes so far, I’m leaving this on the back-burner until I have a whole day to watch them all through in one, but this is the third AMC drama (along with Mad Men and Breaking Bad) in a trilogy of near-perfection. So my doubts that the first two episodes are a little slow and boring I am sure are just thoughts I need to refrain from – the show is meant to be slow burning and tense, and just as long as the build-up is worth it this could be one of the best of the season

The Walking Dead: Season 1 – AMC (and FX in the UK)

The second show, after Broadwalk Empire, that is lessening the distance between movies and television. The Walking Dead will be the fourth AMC drama and what a brilliantly anticipated show it is! Directed by Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, it’s a high concept comic book adaptation that promises to spice up Halloween (when it’s hour and a half pilot is aired) and with a second season already order, before any minutes have aired, this just needs a Bruce Campbell cameo to have the potential to be perfect.

Mad Men: Season 4 – AMC (and BBC 4 in the UK)

I’ve added it because of constant proclamations of ‘best show ever’ from the people I work with, and with another Emmy (for best drama) win under its belt it’s obviously doing something right. I’m only up to episode ten of Season 1 so far, so the hype is a little lost on me…

There may be more shows worth seeing this year – The Defenders and Lone Star both have ‘potential’ – but these are the ones I’d recommend should be on everyone’s list for the upcoming TV season. I can’t wait.

As a little reminder, if I’ve missed any shows that you think are worth adding to this list then shoot over an email to and demand I add it.

The top 10 ‘must-see’ shows that I have never seen…

16 Aug

Casting doubt on my worth to be able to talk or work within television, I thought I’d share (in no particular order) the shows that are massively critically acclaimed but that I’ve just not got around to seeing (or don’t plan to).

You may scroll down and think ‘this is the cream of the crop of television history, what HAVE you seen?!’ and I’d tentatively agree with you. I have a majority of the shows on either DVD or my hard-drive, often for years, but I’ve just never found the time and dedication to sit down and watch them. Some of them I have started watching, some of them I watched a few of but didn’t like but most I have genuinely just not had the time to see (yet). I do plan on watching most of them one day soon though…

Anyway, I may as well start with probably the biggest omission from my repertoire…

10. The Sopranos

HBO’s masterpiece, the ‘greatest television show ever made’ (according to countless lists, including The Guardian) and the show that went head-to-head with the awards critics against one of my favourite ever shows – The West Wing.

Why, then, have I not seen it? I don’t even have the excuse of having no access to it, as my mum got me the first season on DVD two years ago.

I just haven’t found the time to dedicate to it. I watched the pilot episode about a year and a half ago but, as they do, things came up and I never got further than that episode. I will try again with it though, someday…

9. Battlestar Galactica

This is the show that has probably been thrust upon me by friends and work colleagues most of all. I’m not a massive fan of sci-fi shows so when this first aired I had no yearning to watch it, but since then countless forums and friends have proclaimed this (also) ‘the best show ever made’. Whenever I state my neutral feeling towards sci-fi shows they always tell me it is ‘way more than that’ etc etc.

I believe them and think I’ll enjoy it a lot more than I expect to right now, but with an hour and a half movie to watch before the first episode (that apparently began the whole series) it seems a daunting thing to even begin…

8. Firefly

This was (and probably still is) my housemate at University’s favourite show, and when I first revealed I’d never seen this (which was shortly after it was released on DVD) he was flabbergasted. So much so, in fact, that he lent me the DVD – many times. But with studies and that whole socialising thing happening around those times, I never got round to it.

This is, realistically, the show I’ll watch first on this list. At 14 episodes long, a cheap price on Amazon and the promise of being ‘even better than Serenity’ – which I watched with the aforementioned housemate, who dragged me along as propaganda to watch the series, and enjoyed the film a lot but was obviously not compelled enough to follow-through watching the series it was based on.

7. The Wire

I have about five work colleagues and friends that proudly proclaim this as their favourite show, and also keenly observe The Guardian constantly banging on about this as the best show since sliced bread. I listened to all those people and gave this a go and just… simply couldn’t get into it.

I’ve tried it twice, in fact. The first time I got to episode two and then lost time again, a few days passed and I never went back to it. That was, until a few months ago when I tried again. I started a new job and heard, again, how good this show was and that I was basically breaking the law for not worshipping it too. I also read about Treme, the new HBO drama that just ended it’s first season that’s set in New Orleans just after the Katrina hurricane, and was eager to follow that as each episode played out.

My second attempt was better but, again, it didn’t compel me enough to watch an episode (or two) after work. I got to around episode five or six and decided, after a few days away, that I wasn’t particularly bothered about going back. Maybe it’s because it’s so far away from my status quo – be it the setting, the language, the goings-on – or I just prefer shows that don’t require such dedication and memory (I’m terrible with names for at least the first season of a show).

I might have a ‘third time lucky’ again sometime. Maybe.

6. Six Feet Under

This may be the show I’m most eager to get into, with funds and time mainly holding me back from watching it. I followed the first few episodes when it first aired on Channel 4, back in around 2001, but was way too young to be able to commit to a serious TV drama – my only commitment on television then was Jonathan Creek and BBC2 comedy nights.

But with Michael C Hall’s brilliant casting in Dexter, which is one of my favourite shows currently on air, and also seeing Peter Kraus in Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, I am eager to see what by many is seen the epitome of both their careers.

I think, if I find the time to watch it, this could turn into one of my favourite shows – I hope irony doesn’t strike and I die before I getting the chance.

5. Entourage

I don’t have much knowledge about this, other than it’s one of the only shows in this list that is still airing and it has a huge list of brilliant guest stars including:

– Jessica Alba

– Val Kilmer

– Scarlett Johansson

– U2

– James Cameron

– Peter Jackson

– Kanye West

– Martin Scorsese

– Aaron Sorkin

– Mike Tyson

It’s mental. I’m not particularly drawn by celebrities in TV shows (though I thought they were a nice addition in Studio 60 From The Sunset Strip) but that’s a helluva list (and I’ve taken off loads of worthy editions, just so this article doesn’t stretch on forever). I, perhaps foolishly, assume a show that attracts that calibre of star must be pretty brilliant and respected within the industry.

So mainly on that basis, and various positive accolades from friends and random internet people, I’d love to find time to get into this too. I regret, though, not starting from the beginning as it aired and being able to relax with the ‘one episode a week, with a break of 24 weeks a year’ I so enjoy.

4. Seinfeld

I own the first four seasons of this DVD, after spotting it on Amazon for a ridiculously priced £9.

But it’s still in it’s wrapper, until the day when I finally break it out. I just figure an American comedy from the nineties is gonna be quite difficult to watch, at first anyway, and I’ll need to have a bottle of wine and a friend to spot it in my collection and say ‘oh we should watch this and finish the wine!’ and then, in my drunk way, I’ll find it hilarious and that will be that push I need to then watch the rest of it very quickly (I had similar ways into a comedy with Arrested Development and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place).

3. The Shield

This is another of the shows that I just arrived into television too late to really watch as it aired, so therefore by the time it ended and everyone was raving about it (as ‘the best cop show ever!’ etc) I knew this was another added to the growing list of classics I need to buy and watch.

To be honest, I think it’ll take me a few episodes to get through the numerous parodies on animated shows of Vic Mackey to take him completely serious (and will he ever surpass the coolest bald cop characters ever, currently held by Hank in Breaking Bad and Doakes on Dexter?). But I do love that type of show, and if it’s as gritty and compelling as everyone seems to say then this will be essential viewing (when I finally get to it).

2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

This completely overtook me at school. Everyone was into this at one time, raving on about ‘Buffy’ and ‘Willow’ and ‘Angel’ and a whole host of other names I’d never heard before (outside of hippy parents). I think now, without the promise of extra social points at school, I’ll probably never get to this. It’s still well regarded, I know, but I think the whole Twilight crap that’s spewed onto literature and films in the last couple of years have completely ruined vampires for me (which is also why I have yet to touch True Blood, although I’m more tempted to watch that as it’s not aimed primarily at teenagers).

1. Mad Men

I’ve slightly cheated for this final entry, as this is the show I’m currently (slowly) going through.

I’ve heard from many, many people that this is the best show out there right now and have seen the billions of awards that the show gets every year. I’ve fell to peer pressure and now have the first season, in Blu-Ray, comfortably in my collection. I’m up to episode six and am loving it so far…

… and if the rest of the shows on this list are as entertaining as these first few episodes of Mad Men have been then I have literally thousands of hours of enjoyment in the future.

So is it such a bad thing I haven’t seen these shows?

I remember when I watched the final episode of Lost, West Wing, Arrested Development, Spaced, The Office (UK) and countless other shows. I wished so much that I could have my memory wiped and watch them all again from the start; relive those hilarious, touching and down-right genius moments with no recollection and expediency at all. But I lost that gift for those shows I know are my favourite shows, but I still have clear memories of many of my future favourite shows.

So that’s that (and if I remember, I’ll cross these out if I ever get round to seeing them).

The top 10 new shows of the upcoming 2010 US TV season…

14 Aug

After watching quite a few of the pilots for the upcoming season of US television I thought I’d share my thoughts on the best shows coming out in the next few months (and some of which have already started very recently).

I won’t include the mid-season shows that I’ve seen, like Walking Dead (on AMC) or Love Bites (on NBC, that’s had half the cast drop out or get pregnant), and some of couple of the entries are picked from impressive credentials (and not on the pilot or first few episodes).

It’s been a pretty shoddy season in some respects, and I think I may have enough shows to fill a ‘Top 10 Worst shows of the upcoming 2010 US TV season’, but there’s also some really brilliant shows out there too (though some are a little tucked away and may need some pointers to find when they finally come to air).

So here goes…

10. Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole.

From the equally fantastic and baffling mind of Dino Stamatopoulos (what a name!), the creator of the criminally underrated stop-motion claymation Moral Orel, comes another new clay/papermation with a twisted vibe cast across it.

I’ve seen the first five (ten minute) episodes so far and was definitely underwhelmed at first, as I was with the first few episodes of Moral Orel, but the fifth episode (entitled ‘Attack Of The Were-Lawrence’) had a glimpse of the genius that I was waiting for. For the sake of ten minutes a week, even if 1/5 are of ‘great’ quality then I definitely reckon it’s worth sticking with.

The show airs on Adults Swim in the US at 12.30am on Sundays. It hasn’t currently been picked up in the UK (although it may end up on the Adult Swim segments on FX).

9. The Event.

Like a couple more of the entries in this list, I’ve yet to see the pilot episode of this (because I was annoyingly off on a half-day when we had a screening of it). However, the buzz around the office was clear that this was ‘probably’ going to be the show with the biggest marketing push when it’s released (at the moment it seems to be doing a bit of an Avatar, with a mysteriously low key presence at the moment that is sure to build-up to annoyingly in-your-face promotions close to release date).

The extended promo I saw seemed solid enough, I guess, but whether it truly captures the Lost and 24 market, as it’s clearly hoping to capitalise on, or go the way of Flashforward remains to be seen – but if the makers think the hook of ‘bla bla bla is not The Event’ (as seen in the first trailer) is a surefire winner then viewers will turn over in droves.

The Event begins on Monday September 20th at 9pm on NBC in the US. It will air on Channel 4 from (around) October.

8. Nikita

One of the biggest surprises of the screenings this year was the Maggie Q fronted thriller / drama Nikita. Why? Because The CW is a channel that isn’t naturally associated with dramas I enjoy watching, with it’s main staples like 90210 and Gossip Girl littering the schedule. It generally feels like a much younger, female, soppier channel that I’d usually find things I enjoy watching, and it’s not helped that the worst pilot I saw this year (that I watched before this) is also premiering on The CW.

But Nikita was genuinely a solid, watchable thriller. I thought, at first, that Maggie Q was a poor choice for the lead role, as she struggled to captivate me in the first 15 minutes, but I warmed to her quickly and think she ‘does’ have the credentials to pull this through. The initial concept of a secret underground school of assassins seems a little forced, and some of the scenes there were a little cheesy, but I was oddly intrigued on how the title character would manage to infiltrate and destroy it – and the delicious twist at the end made it even more intriguing! The action scenes were solid, the writing wasn’t embarrassing (like many of the network’s most promoted shows) and if the twists and turns of the pilot continue for a full season then I know I’ll stick with Nikita to the end…

Nikita begins at Thursday 9th September at 9pm on The CW. It has been picked up by Living in the UK and will begin shortly after that.

7. My Generation

I watched the initial promo to this seemed to have a Marmite effect when I first watched it with a group of people – I found it captivating, fresh and was intrigued how this would play out. The other half of people said it looked boring, was too niche sounding and would almost definitely be canned after a few episodes.

The pilot finally came in and had a similar reaction from people. I loved it, respected the limitations the documentary format had to pull the plot forward but found it really interesting how they tied real-world events (with a very American skew, obviously) into the lives of these seemingly random people who all left University at the same time (in 2000). There’s every stereotype under the sun (the jock, the nerd, the rich guy etc) and in a surprisingly unforced way we learn what they’re up to now (something I can relate to right now, as I pry the Facebook pages of old school people to see what they are doing now). I think the documentary style (similar to The Office, in a sense) has the opportunity to create really powerful moments, assuming this show does get the chance to play out to a full season.

The characters are intriguing, the setting isn’t madly riveting but it’s interesting enough and the entangled lives of these people (after so long) has a pull that really drew me in to keep watching. Again, many people who saw this hated it and there were others who loved it – I happen to fall onto that latter side, and I really hope there’s enough of us for this not to be cancelled before it’s given a proper run.

My Generations begins on Thursday September 23rd on ABC. It hasn’t been picked up by a UK channel yet (and probably fits best on BBC4 or More4).

6. Rubicon

The channel behind the brilliant Breaking Bad and Mad Men enters the fray with a third attempt to make a classic drama; have they done it?

Well the pilot episode (which is sadly where I’m up to so far) suggests… quite possibly! It’s not as approachable as Mad Men or contain as many interesting characters as Breaking Bad (though how many shows do?) but it has a certain something that I loved. It’s packed to the brim with mystery, with the lead characters reminding me a little of Jonathan Creek. The atmosphere throughout the first episode was mournful, with little touches like the protagonists office by a busy main road that oddly added some real depth to sometimes long, dialogue heavy scenes.

Where’s the show going to go from here? Will it be more procedural from now on or will it continue down the winding, unforgiving path that the viewer is currently on? If the quality keeps up and there’s pay-offs to all these mysteries that tread the fine line of not dragging on to long but being satisfying to the viewer then this can sit proudly with the current AMC crop.

Rubicon airs on Sunday nights on AMC. It hasn’t been picked up by a UK channel yet (and probably fits best on BBC2 / BBC4).

5. Running Wilde

Much of the team behind Arrested Development are back and, amazingly, on the same channel that treated them so badly during the brilliant comedies first venture. Well Fox is certainly taking a risk as no matter how brilliant Arrested Development is it never rated, no matter what they did. The same is in the UK, where every channel that has ever tried to air it in a regular slot has been rewarded with tiny ratings (see: BBC2, Virgin 1…) and seems to be the odd mix of genius and unwatchable on live television.

But none-the-less, the team of Mitch Hurwitz (lead writer) and Will Arnett (Gob) are back on the screens of Fox and in a show that, during the pilot at least, gave me a slightly nauseous feeling throughout. It’s not that the show is ‘bad’ (hence it being number five on this list) but I was also aware that this was, if anything, even more difficult (for the broader public) and niche than Arrested Development and, therefore, will probably go the same way as it.

I’ve placed Running Wilde at number five because I think it could go either way. The pilot had some brilliant one liners (right up there with the best Arrested Development ones) but it didn’t have that genius interconnected plot, with the awesome pay-off, as Arrested Development rewarded us with every episode. Some of the other characters are strong, especially Wilde’s rival, but I felt that this still has some way to go to have a chance of being in the same ranks as it’s predecessor. It’s definitely one for the ‘must watch’ list, and I do have faith that it can be special (especially with David Cross, AKA Tobias in AD, on board in future episodes) but there’s also a niggling worry that it’s not quite there yet.

Running Wilde begins on Tuesday September 21st on Fox. It’s not been picked up in the UK yet (and probably fits best on E4, BBC2 or FX)

4. Outlaw

This is another slightly risky entry, as this is the second show in the list that I’ve yet to see. I watched the promo and was excited to see Jimmy Smits in another major role – I loved him in The West Wing and Dexter and he’s definitely one of my favourite faces to watch on the small screen.

The plot sounds promising too, as a Supreme Justice judge quits his prestigious role to become a smalltime lawyer to try and fix some of the (many) problems in US law today. If it’s as intelligent and well written as it looks, and I’ve no doubt it will be, then this may become one of my favourite shows of this new season. It had a slight West Wing feel to it and I’ve missed that kind of grand ideology television that it delivered so perfectly, so this could tick the box that Aaron Sorkin used to offer up on a weekly basis.

Outlaw begins on Friday Septeber 24th on NBC. It hasn’t been picked up in the UK yet (and probably fits best on BBC4 or More4).

3. Raising Hope

Every year there tends to be a break-out show that captures the public imagination and latches on to common folklore for the next couple of years. Last year it was Glee, and it’s been shows like Heroes, Lost, Scrubs etc in the past. Shows that people at work talk about, shows that entertain the masses and don’t really challenge them too much either.

Well I predict that, probably, the big break-out hit of this year will be Raising Hope. There’s nothing particularly different about it, and it doesn’t have this snug fit into the gap in the market that The Event has thanks to the end of Lost and 24, but it’s simply the funniest and most charming pilot of this year and I unexpectedly witnessed a bidding war in the UK for it purely down to that opening episode (that was ultimately won by the seemingly unlimited coffers of Sky).

It follows a clueless teenager as he finds out he has a baby, and the first ten minutes (as it runs up to that moment) zip along at a pace that is both narratively refreshing and hilarious. And as he slowly comes to grips with responsibilities and dirty nappies (something I can barely comprehend) his dysfunctional family (with mental grandmother in toe) come together and vow to (just about) raise baby Hope as best they can.

If Sky 1 can get an audience to the first episode then the sheer quality and number of laughs that this rewards viewers will guarantee them a hit. They slightly failed on that with last year’s new comedy Modern Family, that did ‘ok’ but hardly resonated across popular culture, and this is a better, more marketable show that has the potential to be the break-out commercial hit of this upcoming year. We’ll see…

Raising Hope begins on Tuesday September 21st on Fox. It’s been picked up by Sky 1 in the UK and should air around a week after that.

2. The Big C

The best pilot I’ve seen this year has to be for Showtime’s drama The Big C, which brings together a cast that would be impressive in a film – let alone on television!

Laura Linney (best known, in my mind, as the wife in The Truman Show), Gabrielle Sidibe (who won the Oscar this year for her brilliant portrayal of a New York student in Precious), Oliver Platt (who has been in countless films and television shows, best known to me as White House council Oliver Babish in The West Wing) and Idris Elba (best known in The Wire) all star in the show, about Laura Linney’s good natured but difficult struggle when she finds out she has incurable cancer.

Many of the people who watched the pilot with me compared it to Six Feet Under, in that it’s ultimately a black comedy about death and family. But I saw it more like a darker Cougar Town (Courteney Cox’s attempt at not being Monica in Friends, in what turns out to be a surprisingly solid feel-good comedy) – where main characters come to terms with difficult circumstances (divorce on Cougar Town, cancer in this) and see it as an opportunity (seeking younger men in Cougar Town, building a swimming pool and generally setting herself free of life’s norms in this). At times The Big C was hilarious, as the brilliant cast all make each role their own, and other times it was incredibly sad (especially the final scene) – this was genuinely quality television for every minute it was on, and Laura Linney is definitely a shoe-in for an Emmy next year too.

1. Broadwalk Empire

Is it possible for anything else to be number one this year?

The one show that may finally bridge the gap between television and movies, to finally unite them into one visual art medium. Although I’ve yet to see the pilot, the promo confirms this is gorgeous and set in an era that is absolutely compelling and rich in plot potential. Steve Buscemi (the cult favourite in many classic films) stars as a gangster in the prohibition era in America, where alcohol was banned and a new era and surprisingly exciting era in the country’s history dawned.

Created by Terence Winter (who also created a little known show called The Sopranoes) and backed by Goodfellas genius Martin Scorsese, with a cast and visual aesthetic easily as acomplished as any major motion picture, this really is classic television on the making.

Broadwalk Empire begins on Sunday September 19th on HBO. It’s been picked up as part of the HBO-exclusive deal that Sky struck recently, so will probably air on Sky 1 or Sky Movies Premiere in October.

So that’s it.

It’s looking to be a good television season this year, and with my favourite established shows (bar Lost) all making a return this looks like my hours after work will be firmly on my HD screen.

Hopefully this will guide a few people at least to some of the gems in this year’s crop and hopefully, just hopefully, they all live up to what their pilots (or promos) suggest.