I’m certain I’m ambivalent

My review of Primeval is up at Strange Horizons today. I know there can be few people in the world today who wouldn’t rate this groundbreaking drama as their favourite show of all time, so I know you’ll all want to head over and take a look. Ah, go take a look anyway.

I’d comment on the Life on Mars finale but it’s been covered in many other places. It’s odd for such a lightweight–if extremely skilful and enjoyable–series to have such a controversial ending. Like The Prisoner, Twin Peaks and even Quantum Leap before it the conclusion casts a strange shadow over the series. Right now I feel fairly ambivalent towards the finale, but I suspect that in a week’s time I’ll either hate it or have come to regard it as a work of genius. At least it wasn’t dull.

Although there’s a dearth of good TV on at the moment until Veronica Mars and Heroes make their long awaited returns, I’m quite enjoying House, Bones and CSI: Original Menthol Flavour (although so far this year CSI is not matching its superb sixth season).

We’ve also been watching The Dresden Files, an entirely formulaic piece of television involving a down-at-heel P.I. who’s also a wizard, and his Tim Curry-esque mentor, who’s a ghost. It’s exactly what you’d expect: vampire of the week, werewolf of the week, skinwalker of the week. I’d place it somewhere above Charmed and occasionally up to the standard of below par Angel, riding on the rumpled charm of its lead performance and the feeling that everyone involved is giving it slightly more effort than the show strictly deserves. I have to say that the second half of the 12 episode season has shown a notable improvement with a lot of input from Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Hans Beimler of Deep Space Nine fame: the plots have become less obvious, and the story arc involving Dresden’s father has moved forward very rapidly. I would only recommend it if you’re in an undemanding mood and predisposed to like this kind of thing, but on those terms I *would* recommend it.

The one thing I can’t recommend about The Dresden Files is the main theme music, one of the most anodyne themes-by-numbers I’ve heard since the 1980s. They try to funk it up mid-season with some up-tempo trumpets in the background, but it’s the very definition of polishing a turd.

Dear CSI writers

Dear CSI writers,

Just a few things to help you on your way…

Radio-monitored shopping tags used to track individuals?

Fingerprints analysed for clues to lifestyle

DNA could be used to predict your surname

It’s amazing how many of these stories keep popping up. You’ll note that not a single one of them says “Laws of physics changed – now possible to zoom into reflections 300 times using grainy CCTV footage”. (Something they did on the episode of Bones we just watched, despite scoring highly a few minutes earlier by referring to the impossibility of enhancing the resolution of an image.)


Saw a trailer for the new season of Doctor Who last night. It looked rather nifty, with a couple of moments that made me wince slightly. So same as always, then. 🙂 It’s on the website too.

I’m not a massive fan of the Mission: Impossible movies, though the first one had its moments, but I get nostalgic about the TV show. So I’m heartened to read in this interview with JJ Abrams (he of Alias fame) that he’s written the third film to be more like the TV show:

“The fun of “Mission: Impossible” was always the teamwork. One of the beautiful things in this movie is that we’ve got Maggie Q, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Billy Crudup, Keri Russell, Simon Pegg … this credible supporting cast. The teamwork, for me, was always the greatest part of the “Mission” TV series. And in “Mission I” and “II” — with some exceptions in “Mission I” — they’ve really been Ethan-Hunt-as-spy movies.”

It’s exactly what I need to hear to move me from apathy into active interest in the film, especially since the trailer was pretty uninspiring. Also he talks about an iconic piece of background music from the TV show (not the main theme) that he’s insisted they work into the film. I think I can picture the music he means, and it should be great.

CSI:NY last night featured a plot about a writer that, even as I look back on it, was the least plausible thing ever. And a plot about rollerskating that, even as I look back on it, was the second least plausible thing ever. However I did catch most of the pilot of NCIS beforehand, which was a great deal more engaging – even if ultimately not very, y’know, plausible (freakishly it’s a Donald P Bellisario show, the first I’ve seen since Airwolf, and his company logo at the end is still exactly the same! Ah, nostalgia…) The original CSI remains better than the rest of ’em by some margin.

Another show riffing on the same basic genre is Bones. We didn’t watch this for ages, but have started catching up with it: it’s oddly clunky but quite endearing, and the two leads work well together. Boreanaz is basically called upon to be laconic and long-suffering with every fibre of his being, and fortunately that’s well within his comfort zone. We’ve only seen the first few episodes, so the show is still in the painful early stage where the characters feel the need to explain their backstory to one another on a ten minute rotation. Also it has a 3D holographic display which does realtime simulations of things in the most ridiculous detail. But we’ll overlook that because it’s that kind of show.

And House continues to be massively entertaining and funnier than most comedies, if slightly less plausible than all of the above shows put together. But it doesn’t matter because it’s that kind of show. It’s like there are two kinds of television – the quality kind where I actually care when it’s crap, and the potboiler kind that amiably passes the time which can get away with all sorts of liberties1. With House the characters are king, and if the plot happens to be a formulaic mass of contrivance, illogic and bad science well, er – look! Hugh Laurie!

1 I suspect that Doctor Who has one foot in each camp.


What a great conclusion to a great two-parter for the original CSI tonight. I prefer the show when it’s more about the science but this was exactly the right way to push the characters in a more dramatic direction – by making it all about the case. Some really nice performances, great little moments, and a far cry from the cartoonish mystery-by-numbers approach that the other two CSI shows are taking.

In other news, why when I bite my lip once (which is painful enough) am I then condemned to bite it several more times the same day? Ow!


New series of CSI tonight on Channel 5! Having not been keeping up with the US airings, I’ve been quite looking forward to this.

Meanwhile it looks like CSI:NY is back next week. It was always a poor second best to the original show, albeit miles better than CSI:Hammy, but I’m not encouraged by the write-up in this week’s TV & Satellite Week, which seems to promise a complete lack of the show’s only interesting aspects:

In its first series CSI:NY’s dark, shadowy sets, glum acting and focus on its characters’ personal lives left it feeling out of kilter with the rest of the CSI franchise… “We’ve lightened it up in every respect – from the storytelling and humour to the sets, wardrobe and hair,” explains series creator Anthony Zuiker.

Joy. The show where even the hair has highlights.


I’m still really enjoying the original CSI at the moment – the best of that family of shows, if only for the characters. I was a little disappointed with the rather Americanised Sherlock Holmes story in the most recent Channel 5 episode, but the science remains to the fore, and the shake-up of the characters has created a bit of interest without seriously disrupting the format. Plus, who could turn up the opportunity to boo and hiss whenever Eckley comes on screen. 🙂

Having given it a few weeks to settle in, I’m coming to the conclusion that CSI: NY – although a completely unnecessary spin-off – is a strong runner-up in terms of quality (when it avoids crimes against humanity like pulling the reflection off someone’s eyeball using grainy CCTV footage at fifty yards). Although it lacks the macabre sense of humour of the original show, it has many of the things I love about the original, including gently self-deprecating characters who love science.1

However, the real point of this post is to note that one of the suspects in this week’s CSI:NY had a conviction for something called “Homocide” according to the screen. Which is probably not the crime they had in mind.

1 As opposed to posing scenery-chewing egotists who prefer hugging children and rescuing small furry animals from trees to doing actual forensics.