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38 reviews in total 
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"24" (2001)
57 out of 78 people found the following review useful:
Misses more than it hits., 14 January 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Now I've watched all of the first two seasons, half of the third and the first four of the sixth, I figure I should write a short comment.

24 can be a very good show but many of the problems that have been there from the start haven't been resolved. Here are seven of the most irritating.

1) When minor characters are introduced, you wonder when they'll be killed or written out. One notable example is the anthrax scare in either Season Two or Three. The kid who is supposedly carrying the virus and his family take up a lot of screen time while it advances the main plot, but then they are written out and never mentioned again. In the end you don't really care about any minor role, and when minor characters are filling up a significant proportion of the screen time you have a problem.

2) It becomes tiresome to see the incompetence of the CTU team. If they're not having endless trouble with double agents of one kind or another, they're bickering and being insubordinate like children. Even in Season Six they have this problem. Milo and the bald man with the British accent, being broken up from fighting by Chloe. Completely unprofessional especially for a supposed national agency. It's surprising they can get anything done.

3) It seems that too often when Jack Bauer breaks with procedure people go on as normal. Rarely is it mentioned that his unorthodox methods of working could jeopardise everything; the team just goes with it. And it's also very convenient that Jack always knows the president and/or some of the cabinet on informal terms, so they'll give him some leeway.

4) Occasionally I get the feeling that the series is some form of propaganda. The villains always seem to be Serbian, or Iraqi, or from other Middle Eastern territories. Even in Season Six where Bauer starts working with someone of this origin, it is not before we are filled in that he was once a terrorist himself. Also in that season, the character Ahmed is saved by an American man only to betray him later, by taking him and his family hostage. To me this seems to promote the idea that your Middle Eastern neighbours can't be trusted and always feel they are victims of inequality, which is completely unacceptable.

5) The implausibility of everything I can often stomach. But sometimes they just take it too far and the suspension of disbelief is stretched and snapped. I'll use Season Six as an example as it's fresh in my mind. Episode Two is awful. The part where the lawyer deletes personnel files from a computer within a large organisation. Are we to assume that the place has no backup server, or no hard copies kept safe somewhere else in the building? Also from that episode there is a man who attempts to suicide bomb a subway train. And how does he decide to do this? By sitting on the last seat of the final carriage of that train. For maximum collateral damage it would make sense to sit in the middle carriage! Then it turns out he was only sitting there so Jack Bauer could save the day by kicking him through the door, out of the train.

6) The use of set pieces can be annoying. It can appear that when the plot gets too mundane or slow-moving the problem can be solved by throwing in an explosion, collision or death of some kind: that seems to be a de rigueur standard for the show. It helps the audience forget that the plot was snail's pace beforehand.

7) What's going on with the villains? They get captured and then they escape. They often seem incredibly stupid, and without contingency plans of any kind. There are times they could be captured before they commit some atrocity, or destroy some seemingly vital piece of evidence, but this doesn't happen. This leads me to think, from time to time, that the villains are stupid and the CTU team progressively more so.

Those are the negatives that annoy me the most, and probably annoy quite a few other casual viewers. What the show does have in it's favour is an iconic, modern Jame Bond-style hero. A slick and always suspense laden veneer with a heavy overtone of drama (sometimes melodrama, of course). Occasionally the show clicks and the implausibility seems natural like the implausibility of life etc, and the audience is kept guessing and also given a satisfying conclusion, with not too many silly subplots.

I've given the show a low rating because it too often misses the target, like a lot of the bad guys. But when it hits it can hit hard, being thought-provoking and stimulating like all the best art. I just wish it would hit home more often, which it could do if they broke from the concept more and had fewer episodes.

56 out of 76 people found the following review useful:
American Dad lays out Family Guy? You bet., 28 September 2006

I always liked Family Guy. What it lacked in plot it made up for in outrageous non-sequitur humour and Peter Griffin's ubiquitous laugh. The juxtaposition of random jokes and standard plots made for some hilarious moments. But after season four it got old. It was a great one-dimensional concept while it lasted, but the appeal of a show with wafer-thin plots just to produce set-pieces can't last forever. Enter American Dad and his huge chin.

It started off pretty good. The thirteen episodes on the first DVD (technically not the whole first season if the production numbers are anything to go by) get stronger and more likable as they go by. 'A Smith In The Hand' which satirises the supposed taboo of masturbation and 'All About Steve' which demystifies geek culture are personal favourites.

Then it got better - MUCH better. Around the time of the episode 'It's Good To Be The Queen' things really started to come together. Seth knows how to draw his characters in ways that suit the initial ideas he had when he started the show and leaves plenty of opportunity for comedy as he fleshes them out. He's really got a feel for how to pace his episodes and how to write great stories, still retaining his trademark for outlandish humour. Certainly there are a few episodes in the whole run so far that are weak, but they are more than made up for by the best ones. Family Guy has more consistency but it doesn't have the sheer brilliance of American Dad when it's at it's best.

What we have here is an animated show that is nearly as strong as my personal favourite, Futurama. In other words, Seth MacFarlene's best work to date.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"You may wonder: how can wood get so hard?", 6 November 2008

"Beavis and Butthead Do America" is filled with vulgar humour, sadistic or otherwise bizarre characters and a convoluted plot insane enough to make no sense. These are some of the movie's finer qualities. If you didn't like the main duo to begin with then this will do nothing to convince you otherwise. But why should it?

Mike Judge has managed to fill out the 75 or so minutes well without making it drag, and he's done it with style. Since he cannot change the simplistic, constantly sniggering leads he has done the most logical thing he could by surrounding them with a plethora of multi-faceted characters tied together with a conspiracy plot that takes them into other locations where their simple-but-effective double-entendre humour can flourish. Previous characters make a return and are given some development where relevant to the plot.

It all starts inauspiciously enough - the hard rock obsessed teenagers awake one day, still on their couch, to find their beloved television is missing. Not smart enough to put the pieces of the puzzle together to catch the thieves in the act, they try and steal one from their school. Wandering around town ever more desperate, they somehow manage to usurp the television thieves, but not in the way you might expect. This lands them right in the thick of it, and the unassuming pair make their way through. Hilarity ensues on a regular basis.

In my opinion as a would-be critic, we need more films like these. Certainly there are plenty of gross-out movies, some of them also animated (as a side note the animation here is a nice balance between the original show and something more polished) but there are few that can take simple toilet humour and dress it up so well, making it more than just a guilty pleasure to enjoy after a few beers and/or a joint. This is right up there with the finer moments of South Park for such an achievement, and can easily be considered Beavis and Butt-Head's crowning moment of funny and/or awesome.

Overall this is a fun, feelgood comedy which doesn't require all your brainpower to enjoy to the fullest, though an extra watch or two might throw up a few sight gags or subplot references that you missed the first time around for whatever reason(!) The plot seems somehow relevant too, considering that it also deals with an issue that has been a headline grabber in post-9/11 society. But not without a couple of sniggers along the way, of course.

7 stars out of 10: very, very good.

7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
One of the finest examples of 'point-and-click' gaming, 20 May 2007

Beneath A Steel Sky was released when titles such as LucasArts Monkey Island and Sierra's Police Quest were essential games. Even with healthy competition, this stood head and shoulders above most of what was available and it did so at a time when the market was nearly saturated with P&C style games.

While humorous and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, BASS was not afraid to take in cyberpunk elements and point the plot towards the darker side of human nature. It paints a bleak future, set in a sprawling Orwellian metropolis where plastic surgery is considered essential to all, sentient androids are indistinguishable from humans and the internet has evolved into a psychedelic virtual reality trip accessible through a 'hole in the head'.

The plot is excellent, and each time I play the game I am pulled into the world Revolution Software created. I've read that some found the script somewhat contrived, but personally I find it is quite witty and has some amusing pop culture references if you examine the right items at the right time. The voice acting on the 'talkie' version really helps bring it alive too (although I'm not sure why Rob Foster, the Australian protagonist, is played by an American).

I played and completed this on the now rare and antiquated Amiga CD32 console, but thanks to the creation of ScummVM and the fact Revolution commendably made BASS freeware in 2003, everyone can enjoy it. Be warned though, there are some tricky puzzles in there.


12 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Gripping, compelling drama/thriller with a dash of black comedy., 16 January 2010

Now let's get one thing straight; this is a television program NOT for the faint at heart. If you like your viewing saccharine, with easy answers and everything wrapped up and snapped back to the beginning by the end of the episode, Breaking Bad is not for you. The premise alone should be enough to tell you that; a cancer-stricken father who is a chemistry teacher turns to illegal drug manufacture with a not-too-bright ex-student and struggles with his own mortality and morality along the way, doing his best to hide the new career choice from his pregnant wife, son with cerebal palsy, medic sister-in-law and law enforcer brother. Yes, this isn't light-weight material by any means.

I'm not a fan of these shows that rely on "inflated sense of tension" to pump up the viewer's adrenaline levels while covering for poor scripting; stuff like 24, Lost and Prison Break started out well-enough but quickly descended into this cheap shock tactic approach to keep the audience hooked. Once I saw through this I stopped watching them completely and have been seeking out quality American shows that are well-produced and equally well-written, and I am happy to say that Breaking Bad is one of these.

Bryan Cranston is perfectly cast as Walt, the man who has to make tough choices to provide for his family. He so perfectly becomes the character that it was not until later I realised he was previously cast as Hal in Malcolm In The Middle. His emotional range is staggering; with a few well-timed gestures or vocalisations he can convey several feelings at once, and when Walt is in pain it is completely believable. Walt is a man of few words, but chooses these words very carefully, so when he speaks everyone on-screen and in the audience are listening.

Cranston isn't just carrying passengers though; he's ably supported by Anna Gunn as his wife Skylar, who brings just the right amount of care and concern for her husband and baby as needed and RJ Mitte plays the son who has CP and gives a very accurate, non-condescending portrayal of the condition so different from the ham-handed "sympathy ploy" approach so overused by shows from the States. Dean Norris plays Walt's brother Hank, the all-American police officer who doesn't take any guff and flushes out drug dealers for a living, with his quirky kleptomaniac wife Marie (the lightest character in this show, amusingly) who is handled with panache by Betsy Brandt. Rounding out the main cast is Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, every inch the nervy, paranoid and streetwise "cook" who becomes Walt's new partner and guide to the world of drug trafficking.

There's much to recommend. Tight, well-plotted scripts that make the unbelievable tangible and don't waste a line while doing so. Superb, inventive direction and settings that perfectly fit the mood of the show, an interesting mixture of steadicam, handicam, point-of-view and camcorder shots that appear to be captured by the cast themselves. Excellent choice of soundtrack; almost every episode ends with a classic song and the musical cues throughout really add to the atmosphere without becoming overpowering; witness the searing, high-pitched noises when we see through Walt's eyes as he is in pain or being given bad news for an example.

What is most remarkable is that the show never gives easy answers, never biases us towards the characters (we are given both sides of the debate and left to make our own choices, which respects the viewers intelligence) and always does things that you will not expect. There is not a single cliché to be found here, no way of knowing exactly how each person will react to the situations they are thrust into. These are complex, multi-faceted individuals with free will and their own motivations, who exist not as mere tools to advance the plot. The plot itself is always coherent and leaves very few loose ends. If you see an event or object framed, however subtlety, you can bet it will come back later on. Maybe not in the same episode, but as part of the story arc. And last but not least is the incredibly pitch black humour that crops up every now and then, so dark it almost feels uncomfortable to laugh.

If you liked the first season of Dexter but don't like the direction it has now, Breaking Bad is for you. Not since I saw Firefly (a very different kind of show) have I enjoyed a television program this much. If they can carry this program on for two or three more seasons and then end it without dragging past the logical closure point - and with Walt the way he is, this is crucial - it will be one of the greatest drama series of all time.

If you haven't tried it, start from the pilot episode, keep an open mind, and you just might find your new favourite show. I know I did.

"Firefly" (2002)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Far too good to last., 18 February 2009

I feel saddened whenever I finish watching an episode.

It was with a hint of regret that I noticed the DVD read "Firefly - The Complete Series". It should have read "Firefly - The Complete First Season" and it should have been the first of many worth adding to your collection.

This had the potential to be one of the best science-fiction themed shows ever created, maybe even one of the best television shows. The potential was certainly there: Joss had plot arcs and character development lined up for at least four seasons. Although we got to see some of that in the Big Damn Movie, so much was crammed in that a lot of the sublime subtleties that make Firefly such a wonderful, inspirational show got buried under the (admittedly enjoyable) action sequences.

We'll never get to see the dark past that forced Book to become a religious man. The tale of how Wash and Zoe hooked up after their initial friction in my personal favourite episode, the astonishing Out Of Gas. More about Mal's twisted past and further skeletons falling out of the closet. How far the seemingly unrequited love duels between Simon/Kaylee and Mal/Inara (played by the achingly beautiful Morena Baccarin) could have gone.

Rarely am I so impressed with a show that I can watch more than a few episodes a week. But with this, I managed to watch the entire series and movie in a one day marathon, changing my plans because I couldn't tear myself away.

The universe of the show is so gritty... you can almost breathe it in thanks to the excellent choice of locations. Many lame sci-fi and/or Western clichés are put out to pasture, or shot completely. Watching this show killed much of my interest for Star Trek; in fact outside of First Contact and Wrath Of Khan I don't think I'll bother anymore.

What I take away most of all - and what really sells me on the show before even mentioning the incredible wit of the script - is the complete devotion every actor puts in, especially the main cast. There is genuine kinship and trust. They obviously love working with each other and for each other. And this brings out fine performances time after time, making episodes range from excellent to staggering.

It inspired the kind of fanatical devotion I've only seen from Lost and Heroes, but neither of those shows hold a candle to Firefly. While other shows get muddied down and lose their way, the first and only season of this is focused and fulfilling. It teaches us that the best choices aren't always the morally upstanding ones, and that bending the rules for the greater good is often the way to go.

To quote Blade Runner, the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long - and Firefly burned so very, very brightly.

"Frasier" (1993)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The sitcom comes of age., 5 June 2008

Frasier is a near-perfectly executed show. It may not be the most popular because it often speaks of a world so venerated and coveted that few members of society can truly relate to the high-brow snobbery of the protagonist and his brother. But the beauty of show is it's approachability... whenever something too elite or prosaic is uttered, you can guarantee that the boys father, Martin Crane (played with precision by John Mahoney) will be there to bring the show back with a blue-collar perspective that deflates the esoteric references with gentle, real-world humour. He is perhaps the most believable ex-cop on screen.

Why does the show work? The same reason most good shows work... relatability. Everyone knows a Daphne, a Martin, a Ros or even a Frasier. Although not many of the target audience have worked in show-business or psychiatry, we are at least familiar with the precepts and common themes. What separates Frasier from other, equally great shows is at first twofold; bringing characters beyond reliable stereotypes into unique individuals, and doing everything with high intellectualism without becoming pretentious. With repeated viewings the writing and direction allow us to see shades of ourselves in the characters. I personally enjoy an ice-cold lager, salted snack treats and a big football game on the box as much as Martin Crane, but yet I also enjoy indulging in thought-provoking works of art in the form of great literature and painting, as the Crane sons often do. (Though I do stop short at the opera.) And of course, it shows that under our facades we're not so very different. I feel many shows eschew this last point in favour of bland entertainment. Frasier doesn't.

To cut to the point as Martin Crane so often does: it won't make friends of everyone but those that like the mixture will probably count it among the best television shows ever made. The fracturous human psyche and it's perception of reality, satirised for entertainment, is a concept as old as Greek mythology and just as well-executed when the show peaks. I believe many episodes of Frasier will age just as well as one of the coveted vintage wines the Crane boys are so fond of. Here's hoping. 8/10

30 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
Excellent episode for so many reasons., 2 July 2008

Frasier's second season is my personal favourite of the show's impressive body of work, with this particular gem perhaps my all-time favourite episode. It is incisive and witty, handling homosexuality and dating with tact and taste, never becoming crass or re-enforcing stereotypes.

The punchlines range from highly amusing to downright hysterical, with some being so good I actually have to pause the episode because I'm laughing so hard I cannot hear the next lines. Kelsey Grammar plays his role with complete candour and is complimented with incredible style by Eric Lutes, on fine form as Frasier's new boss at the station.

This is situation comedy at it's finest; rarely do I see anything that matches it, never do I see it bettered. In one episode Frasier (the show) does a better job of dealing with sexual preference than the entire run of Will & Grace. Joe Keenan wrote many episodes for Frasier, all very good, but he really excels himself here. Outstanding work, and one of the few times I've awarded a perfect score. It is thoroughly deserved.

"Futurama" (1999)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Irreverent genius, 16 May 2007

I know when I've found a great show, because it becomes hard for me to describe it's merits, mostly because there are so many. Futurama is one of those shows.

A simultaneous send up AND tribute to great sci-fi, pop culture movies and other animated shows, Futurama is a triumph. Unbound by the 'nuclear family' aesthetic of the Simpsons, Groening and his team have created some of the most wonderful, unique characters of any show, blending old archetypes with new ideas. My personal favourite is Zapp Brannigan: the most heavily decorated military leader on Earth who also happens to be an incompetent, womanising buffoon, showing us that the worst people are still doing the most important jobs in Groening's vision of the future.

The show was destined to be a cult classic from the get go. Things like the fact they created a whole cipher language and placed it in the show and on the DVDs, allowing fans to decrypt hidden messages. Subtle ideas and near subliminal frames in the first season set up plots for later seasons, hinting at a dynamic vision. Brilliant animation, blending traditional techniques with just the right amount of modern CGI. A majority of the non-human characters have wonderful anthropomorphic qualities, making them more believable, unlike classic sci-fi where fear of the unknown is a given. Episodes that hang together coherently, no matter how bizarre, with each one having many great quotable moments. Yes, Futurama has a lot going for it.

In later seasons they weren't afraid to move away from just being a comedy, either. With "Jurassic Bark", "The Sting" and "The Devil's Hands..." we were shown poignant storytelling, giving real heart and depth to the characters, while seamlessly retaining the trademark quirks. And, like the Simpsons, each episode has those little extra details in the background that reward repeated viewings.

The show was sadly discontinued in 2003 but after talks with Fox the same team - almost exactly the same team, in fact, showing that all that were involved in it's creation really enjoyed working together - is now developing a completely new set of features, due to be with us in 2008. I am confident the quality is going to be just as high.

In an era of mediocre reality shows, poorly written suspense soap-dramas and bland Hollywood remakes of old film classics, a multi-faceted gem like Futurama stands out like a supernova. Highly recommended.

18 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
It's hard to believe this was the pilot., 2 July 2008

Yes, this is the one that kick-started the Futurama franchise. Looking back, now the show is halfway through it's fifth season, it is amazing how well it has aged. The characters are on-model, the voice acting is nearly spot on (the Professor's would later change) and most of all, the trademark Groening animation style and spoof-heavy humour are all in check.

Pilot episodes lay out the premise that forms the backbone of the show. Sometimes they suffer from a weak plot, trying too hard to throw the main characters together without giving you a feel for the world the show is set in. In "Space Pilot 3000" quite the opposite is true; great writing helps things flow naturally, setting up character quirks and catchphrases that become staple running gags of later episodes. In fact, Bender's first line is now his oft-used insult.

This outing is several notches above standard pilot fare, and stacks up to any other 'classic' episode of Futurama thus far. For those thinking about delving into the franchise, this tells you all you need to know. Great work!

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