The magic lantern

We just watched part one of the BBC’s new Stephen Fry in America. It’s an amiable Michael Palin-esque travelogue in which quirky British person Stephen Fry drives a black London cab around every one of the US States. Now obviously Fry is a living man-god who can do no wrong, and his past forays into TV have been some of the best things produced in the last few years, whether delving into hs own mental health, his family history or the invention of the printing press. Which may partly explain my feelings of mild disappointment with this series. The pace of the tour is so rapid, with barely time for a vignette in each state, that it feels like edited highlights of a much better series. The early scenes are also crying out for more linking narration from Fry himself, coming across as a strangely disjointed series of moments with no common thread. Nonetheless he’s a very likeable tourist, uncompromisingly English and out of place, but also delighted, interested and non-judgemental. It improved and felt more organic towards the end of the episode, so I hope the later episodes continue to relax into their subject matter. Maybe the book will fill in some of the gaps and add some much needed commentary.

We’re not watching a lot else at the moment. The new US TV Season is in full swing, but is so far failing to impress. Bones is shaky at best, but then it was never what you’d call slick or plausible. The device of rotating grad students is at least mildly amusing. Heroes is proving considerably more engaging than Season 2, but is so irredeemably bonkers and that it’s difficult to imagine how it can ever recover any plausibility. House is as good as ever, but lacks that single brilliant concept that made Season 4 stand out. Stargate Atlantis is like turning up for a rock concert and getting the hotel band instead.

(I do highly rate The Middleman for those that haven’t caught up with it yet.)

Probably the thing that’s most grabbed me is The Restaurant, a strange semi-clone of The Apprentice with a big dollop of Masterchef, in which a series of hopelessly inept couples struggle to run a busy Restaurant and repeatedly fail to show any trace of ability to learn or take advice. Like The Apprentice, I can’t sit still for squirming in empathetic embarrassment or muttering in barely-suppressed outrage at their ineptness. Unlike The Apprentice, Raymond Blanc is clearly a Genuinely Nice Guy who offers insightful, constructive criticism, and always tries to soften the sting of his remarks. The man has the patience of a saint.

Lastly, I just saw these pics of Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Watson in Guy Ritchie’s new movie. I’m unconvinced. In concept I was intrigued by the casting, but Downey Jr looks strangely like Charlie Chaplin. I can see that they’re trying to go in an unorthodox direction with the material, and it’s not that Holmes can’t survive different takes — I think he’s the most played character in history, or close to it — but at some point the changes will become so great that you may as well call him something else and have done with it. We’ll see. A couple of pictures are hardly definitive, but they bode. They bode.

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