Category Archives: Television

Made in America/Members Only – The Sopranos

An excellent analysis here of the final scene in the final episode of The Sopranos. Don’t read unless you’ve seen it (or don’t care about spoiling the end of a great TV show).

In-depth analysis like this of the direction, camera angles and shots, really adds something to a second or third run-through of The Sopranos, Mad Men, The Wire and maybe a handful of other shows. When you’re not distracted by wanting to know what’s going to happen, you’ve got more time to enjoy how the director gets you there. And make no mistake: these TV series are of a far higher calibre in this respect – the attention to detail and the thoughtfulness of exposition – than the vast majority of movies.

I think it’s time to start on The Sopranos again.

Identifying Netflix content tourists with science

I’d describe my level of understanding of this technology as marginally more than zero but surely this idea works on paper but could never work in the real world. Network latency is a highly unreliable metric when it comes to measuring physical distance. I suspect that the technological developments necessary to make this feasible will take longer to appear than a more sensible approach to global content distribution licensing. The current system mainly favors the studio lawyers who broker rights deals and I suspect its days are numbered.

Netflix itself, of course, couldn’t care less about content tourists. If it did, it would probably use address verification in its credit card payment interface: it’s very easy to activate and all credit cards include personalization data which include address, postcode and country. No, Netflix pays lip service to worrying about VPN/DNS services (the latter are, from experience, far superior) only to placate the lawyers whose cash cow’s days are numbered.

Purity – Jonathan Franzen

Purity, by Jonathan Franzen

I shan’t write a review outlining the plotlines or anything like that. Rather, here are a few thoughts that came to me while reading and digesting Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel.

– This feels like it was written with television in mind. Maybe writing the doomed HBO adaptation of The Corrections put him off but I felt like Franzen’s multi-threaded style has evolved to feel like a really good TV show. Varied locations, time taken to develop a character who then disappears, only to resurface, and a combination of the highly visual and highly visceral. Franzen said that The Corrections had a ‘universe’ behind it with more characters and stories which he effectively edited out of the novel. I wonder if he didn’t consciously include more of these in Purity.

– The Corrections and Freedom felt like attempts to describe America and the world at specific historical moments. Purity feels no different in this respect. While it continues in Franzen’s now traditional way to analyse family life (most specifically a Larkinesque approach to what parents do to their kids), Purity also deals with the information revolution: the Internet. Franzen has been named a Luddite by many fierce defenders of the Internet for comments he has made over the years about things like how a serious writer would never write a novel on a computer connected to the Internet. These defenders get really upset by anyone criticising their revolution. In Purity, Franzen takes some time to explain his position and his argument that the ‘revolution’ of the internet – insofar as it applies to liberty – is as false as the ‘revolution’ of the German Democratic Republic, but just as totalitarian. His observation that Google, Facebook and Twitter are often hailed for defending ‘freedom’ principles while the NSA – which really is tasked with protecting the American system – is universally loathed, is provocative. And taking some time off from such things over New Year, it is difficult to point to any true value that social media brings to an individual’s life, outside of ego boosts.

– The idea of the Great American Novel is, in itself, a sort of Moby Dick (hurr hurr) for writers like Franzen. I don’t think he’s trying to deliver that with Purity, but I do appreciate that if he has come close, it’s with a Spanish culebron packed with German characters.

– Purity’s closing message fits with a popular analysis of inter-generational strife in the post-war half century west. Our parents’ generation have fucked everything up. And they had everything. Franzen adds to this a vital component of hope – he seems to trust the ‘millennials’ far more than many authors in his position do.

– I liked Pip as a lead character.

– I found Purity to be the funniest Franzen to date. Really laugh out loud funny at times.

– For some reason, I split my reading of the book between a visit to Berlin (which felt amazingly well-timed, seeing as I could now imagine the Frankfurter Allee and Friedrichshain while reading about them, and a trip to the Philippines (which is only mentioned once, and briefly, in the novel).

– In all, an enjoyable read.

Narcos: a TV show that could have been great. But wasn’t.

This story about Pablo Escobar, the government he tried to bring down and the cops who fought to bring him to justice should have been a lot more compelling.

Narcos is another OK TV series from Netflix. In fact, it’s probably the best OK TV series that Netflix has produced so far. But it could have been much more. Todd VanDerr Werff at Vox has a great review dealing mainly with the show’s over-emphasis on voice-over – I agree with pretty much everything he writes.

For me, the main problem with Narcos – a problem that affects many mediocre TV shows – including all of Netflix’s in-house content – is a lack of artistry. Watching Narcos, you never get the feeling that a genius is taking you on a journey. When an episode ends, you don’t feel the need to chat with the person next to you about what that installment meant, or what you thought the writers were trying to say. That’s something that happened with Mad Men (for all its faults) and certainly in Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Wire and a few other shows.

The sad thing is that Narcos could have done it. The show was extremely well made: nice photography, generally good casting, great locations, an emphasis on Spanish-language dialogue which I really appreciated. The first episode even began with a quote about magic realism and its roots in Colombia, which inspired some hope that we were going to get something different this time around. It could have been a great show. But every time it had a chance to take the viewer on a journey, to provoke or beguile, it opted instead for the safety of bland exposition.

Narcos is another OK TV show from Netflix. And all the more disappointing for it.

My unifying theory of comedy

Comedy is probably my most dominating vice, more alluring to me than women or wine. And, much as I’ve studied the finer qualities of those other two, I feel – well, it’s sort of an obligation – I need to watch and to criticise and assess and ponder comedy every single day.

I once went to see Russ Abbot in London. I suppose that he, the Two Ronnies and Blackadder had a fundamental influence on what I find to be funny. Later, the Fast Show and Alan Partridge ruled my jokesphere. But it was in the discovery of late-night reruns of the Larry Sanders Show and Seinfeld that my comedy addiction finally found a home.

And Seinfeld led me to Curb Your Enthusiasm, naturally. That these two shows, born of the genius of Brooklyn-raised Larry David, are among the most celebrated TV shows ever is no surprise to me. I’ve always loved the New York fast-talkin’, wise-ass schtick that Woody Allen used in Annie Hall. But Curb taught me something else: the secret of great comedy.

And this is my theory.

Essentially, great comedy is made through a counterpoint of your lies and the lies of those you interact with. Pathos is important, at times, but the key is the manipulation of people and their manipulation of you. In other words, society and life are the comedy.

Now, I’m aware that this sort of thinking is pretty facile. I don’t claim this as ‘original thought’. But I’ve come to it all on my own, and now I feel the world needs to share it with me.

Oh, and Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 5 Episode 10 is the finest piece of comedy I’ve ever seen. It’s perfect. It deals with identity, mortality, selfishness and selflessness in a way that no movie ever could. Also the time-travel episode in the new Futurama season is pretty good. Pretty. Pretty. Pretty Good.

Some TV shows we’ve been watching

I’m a big fan of TV as a cultural medium. A well made TV series can often be much more detailed and consuming than any movie. Seinfeld’s plot arcs are famous, but so – I reckon – should be the BBC’s excellent TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (a TV show which has rendered all films of that novel, prior and subsequent, rubbish). Here are some of the shows we’ve been watching recently.

Arrested Development

The first time I watched this show, I couldn’t get into it. We watched the pilot, and perhaps I was in a bad mood or something, but it just didn’t take. This year, we tried again. And I’m so glad we did. Arrested Development is one of the best comedies I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. The cast is perfect and the scripts are wonderful. The Bluth family, backbiting and conspiring against each other, is a jewel of TV comedy setups. That Fox cancelled Arrested Development is yet another tragedy in that network’s history. That the writers found numerous ways of mentioning this in season 3 only confirms their wit. Gemma and I will forever have GOB’s chicken dance as a happy, surreal touchstone of great comedy.

Mad Men

Perhaps controversial in content, I grew to love this portrait of advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Yes, it has product placement, is broadly capitalist in its outlook, and sometimes seems to go out of its way to celebrate ‘the good old days’ of chauvinistic extravagance. But Mad Men isn’t uncritical. The pompous, fatuous alcoholism of its title characters is loathsome, and the program makes this clear. What’s more, Mad Men is shot better than any TV show I’ve ever seen. Both because of its perfect direction and immaculate production values, Mad Men is a must see.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

This program was described by someone on Popbitch as being a bit like Friends, only where all the characters hate one another and plot against each other constantly. The backbiting (yes, I like that) and unscrupulous behaviour of the characters always leads to their inevitable downfall, often at the hands of an array of recurring enemies.


Dexter is a TV show which received widespread praise among critics and friends alike. However, it’s not actually a very good show at all. The writing team aimed at a serious plot arc, but the episodes themselves are bogged down in character development of the dullest, most pedestrian kind. The acting is often quite terrible, and this goes for the lead as well as almost all of the supporting characters. The main problem is the lead character: he’s a sociopath with whom we’re supposed to somehow bond. I found Ted Bundy in the eponymous movie somehow less hateful than the lead character Dexter. At least Bundy was completely insane. I know that the writers are offering us a challenge: accepting a serial killer as a hero. But, because of the writing and the acting, it never quite works. Which makes it bad.


From the creator of The Wire and Generation Kill, Treme is a story of music and rebirth in post-Katrina New Orleans. Tracing various characters as they attempt to rebuild their lives in the near-ruined city, Treme has as its focus the city’s jazz scene, second line bands and Mardi Gras Chief parades. The writing is excellent, the cast formidable (along with some familiar faces from the Wire, John Goodman and others lend real gravitas to Treme), and the story is uplifting and heartbreaking. But it is the music that makes Treme a practically perfect TV show. From John Boutté’s theme song to the Rebirth Band’s second line tunes (and this is just in the first few minutes of episode 1), Treme is infused with New Orleans music from beginning to end. Celebratory, mournful and tragic in turn, Treme is probably the best TV show I’ve seen since The Wire. It might even be better. Season 2 is on the way. If you watch one TV show this year, make it Treme.

Jon Stewart takes on Fox News

OK, this is a repost of a comment I left on CiF. But I’ve been blogging so little recently, I reckon it’s acceptable. Referring to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and their take on the insanity that is Fox News:

Jon Stewart has done lots of pieces that show – better than many journalists seem capable of doing – just how FNC intentionally blurs ‘news’ with ‘opinion’.

A couple of recent examples that come to mind are his approx. 10 minute bit from about 2 weeks ago, about the ‘war between the White House and Fox News’ ( and his hilarious send up of Glen Beck’s lunatic conspiracy theory/mass crazy therapy session (

You don’t need to be told that these are comedy because they’re aired on Comedy Central. But their message is, at base, a serious one: Fox News Channel is a morally corrupt, institutionally mendacious TV station. We all know that, but sometimes it’s nice to hear someone sane remind us of it… and give us a laugh at the same time.

TVE censors crowd disapproval of Spanish national anthem at Copa del Rei final


When the Spanish national anthem was played on Wednesday night, it was met with whistling, klaxons and a lot of other noise from the predominantly Catalan and Basque supporters present. TV España switched to its outside broadcasting units in Barcelona and Bilbao in an apparent attempt to hide this, and then played coverage of the anthem being played, with edited sound. The sport director of TVE has been sacked for this ‘human error’ which actually looks a lot more like the Spanish national broadcaster trying to hide a potentially embarrassing truth.

More coverage at Cataloniablog.

“The bus is full”

Noel Edmonds has made a new play in his “biggest wanker ever” campaign. Now neck and neck with Jeremy Clarkson (no relation), Edmonds has called for immigrants to be thrown out and the UK’s borders closed. According to the News Of The World:

“We can all go down the pub and go, ‘Oh it’s terrible, all these immigrants.’ But what are we going to do in Britain to change this toxic culture if we don’t say, ‘Enough is enough.’

“If I was Prime Minister for a day the first thing I would do would be to close the border.

“Then we could work out how many people we’ve got here.

“Then you get people out who have committed crimes and you look at others who shouldn’t be here. Nobody knows how many people we’ve got here.”

Indeed. I avoided the boycott of TeleCinco for their anti-Catalan stance because I’m not that keen on boycotts. But Noel “cunt” Edmonds has made me rethink my position. “Noel’s HQ”, the wanker’s new vehicle, will be avoided at all costs. Well, it would have been anyway, but now I won’t even tune in to see if he kills another guest.