Jarv’s view from the couch: Part 1 (Sci-fi and Horror)
This is normally Droid’s territory, but work has been kicking my arse to such an extent that I have literally not watched a movie of any description for absolutely yonks. However, Lovefilm has stuffed a whole load of TV up on the On-Demand service, and I have been watching that. So, this will include a brief capsule review of everything I’ve seen in 2013. Many of these series I started and then abandoned for being either a) shit or b) too much for my lazy brain to deal with.
I’m not bothering with ratings for this lot, as I’ll be here all day. I will try to be clear though.
First up on my epic odyssey through the bowels of the silver screen is Geek favourite Battlestar Galactica:
This is a common theme of Xi’s: Nerds giving out utterly unmerited tongue baths to material that quite simply isn’t worthy of the fellatio. While we may disagree, there’s no doubting that he has a point.
We dished out a well-deserved beating to that giant pile of Dragon’s leavings Game of Thrones last year, and for some reason I still hadn’t learned my lesson about wasting time on drivel celebrated by the internet hordes.
Case in point? Battleshit Galactica. This “award winning” (hah), and much lauded remake of the cheesy 1970’s “classic”, gets more love than a Viagra-fueled Hef. And yet, for the life of me, I can’t see why. Telling the story of the Human v Cylon war (the first episode has humanity spectacularly wiped out on Caprica) and the exodus of the surviving people aboard the Galactica, this should be an absolute blast. Yet it isn’t.
On the plus side, the acting is quite good, with Katee Sackhoff doing her best as Starbuck (despite the hideously overwritten character, which I’ll come to in a minute), and James Callis decent as the sleazy weasel Gaius Baltar. However, this is where my positivity runs out (although I do admit to finding Tricia Helfer highly attractive as Number 6/ figment of Baltar’s wank fantasies).
The problem’s with Battlestar Galactica run thus: it’s hopelessly boring. Honestly, it’s staggeringly dull. The occasional episode (such as the last one I watched) throws in some space opera style pyrotechnics to keep the kids interested, but really, all in all it’s far too spread out. In the meantime, it feels as if practically every episode is a mind-numbing exercise in “find the cylon”. Whoever had the idea that Cylon’s can flawlessly impersonate humans needs dragging behind the shed and lobotomised with a 9mm. It’s a honking idea, and one that almost every single fucking episode deals with. I’m not stupid, and I understand that they’re trying to inject paranoia into proceedings, but the situation on board the Galactica is tense as hell without it. To make matters worse, the Cylon agents don’t necessarily know that they’re Cylon agents. Paranoia should be a seasoning in a big Sci-fi like this one, and less would definitely have been more, because I grew to hate the concept by the time they had the big show trial in Tigh me up, Tigh me down.
Secondly, the character writing is frankly shit. Case in point: Starbuck. Not only is Starbuck the best pilot in the history of humanity, but also the best sniper, the best mechanic, the best interrogator of pretend humans, can drink everyone under the table, is a raging nympho, and could out-punch Tyson. It’s just utterly absurd that she’s this overpowered. As such, almost each episode has a “shit we need such and such, oh let’s call Starbuck in” moment. Honestly, it gets fucking ridiculous really early on “reactor needs fixing? Call in Starbuck”; “Someone needs to fly a Cylon jet? Call in Starbuck”; “We need to plan an attack on a Cylon base? Call in Starbuck”; “I’m stuck with this Rubik’s cube? Call in Starbuck”. She becomes the focus of episode after episode- to the absolute detriment of both the character and the series.
Finally on this one, it’s pompous. And not a little bit, but unwaveringly and annoyingly stick up its arse pompous. The main characters (aside from Baltar), are all insanely self-righteous, the drive behind the plot is borderline chariots of the gods drivel, and it just ground on my nerves. I persevered with it as long as I did, because one of the early episodes (Water) is an absolute cracker, and Mrs. Jarv liked it, but eventually after the trial episode neither of us could take any more.
Needless to say, I really, really, really, do not recommend this. Unless you struggle to sleep and watching boring people play find the Cylon in deep space is your idea of a good time. Battlestar Galactica is, frankly, shit.
After the tedium of that, I needed something lighter, and to be honest, good. As such, I delved back into classic British TV from the early part of the 21st Century: Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace.
Ordinarily when something gets unjustly cancelled, I can blame America. However, this one was entirely our fault. People just didn’t get it, and the marketing from Channel 4 was hideous so nobody actually knew about it, and if they did know, they certainly didn’t understand it. It has since then, I’m pleased to say, found a cult following, but don’t let that put you off.
This is absolute fucking gold. Deep fried genius.
Opening with imaginary horror writer “Garth Merenghi” (Matthew Holness), self-described “author, visionary, dreamweaver” reading from the most hilarious third-rate drivel around, he promises to let us delve into his imagination, into his “darkplace”. I’m not actually joking about how bad Garth’s writing is, here’s a sample:
Something was pouring from his mouth. He examined his sleeve. Blood!? Blood. Crimson copper-smelling blood, his blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. (Checks line)…And bits of sick.
He’s still better than Dean Koontz, though.
However, Garth possesses an absolutely monstrous ego, and not only genuinely believes he is some kind of genius, silenced by the powers that be (MI8), but also that he has an important message:
‘Garth Marenghi? Isn’t he the guy who writes all that horror crap?’ Well, good luck to you, you’re an idiot. Because my books always say something, even if it’s just something simple like: ‘Don’t genetically engineer crabs to be as big as men’, there’s always a message or a theme.
Needless to say, he’s got nothing of the sort. However, due to “the worst televisual drought in history”, Channel 4 is resurrecting his cancelled “meisterwork” for our pleasure- intercut with interviews with the important actors such as Dean Learner (Richard Ayaode), Garth’s publisher/ pimp/ businessman and Todd Rivers (Matt Berry), an improbably voiced Lothario who hasn’t worked since Darkplace. No sign of Madeleine Wool (Alice Lowe) as she disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Each episode (there are only 6 which is a great shame) is an almost pitch-perfect pisstake of the kind of low-rent horror/ sci-fi television that we put out in the 80’s. Darkplace is set in a Romford hospital that straddles the gates of hell, and it’s up to the Doctors (Dagless (Merenghi), Sanchez (Rivers), Asher (Wool) and Thornton Reed (Learner)) to save the day. They also intercut the episode with interviews with the cast, to varying degrees of hilarity. Of particular note is Learner admitting that they didn’t have enough material for half an hour, so everything that doesn’t contain dialogue is “fair game” for slo-mo.
The production on the actual Darkplace episodes themselves is stunning. From the fake distortion on the dreadful synth-driven Carpenter rip off theme (based on a melody once whistled by Garth Merenghi), to the inability of the actors to actually act, 9th rate special effects, hideous editing, and downright silly and dubious concepts, this is an absolute treat for anyone that is aware of the kind of DTV schlock that I tend to wade through in the vault.
More than that, though, it’s actually funny in its own right. Two episodes leap to mind. The first is Hell Hath No Fury, where Asher develops telekinetic powers in a flagrant Carrie rip off. This episode is absolutely overburdened with misogynistic jokes, and Garth ruefully observes that you couldn’t get away with that kind of thing nowadays. The second, and probably the best episode, is The Scotch Mist, where in a nod to The Fog, an evil “mist” rolls in hiding supernatural stereotype Scotsmen seeking vengeance on Dagless for saying some disparaging remarks while in Scotland. Even Garth acknowledges that they may have gone too far with this one, but we’ve come a long way and if an Englishman and a Scot meet up now there’s “only 50% chance of a stabbing”. The lengths the cast go in the interviews to try to explain that it isn’t racist, instead being about tolerance, despite all appearances to the contrary, is absolutely hilarious.
Darkplace is gold. If you haven’t seen it, dig it out, because I promise you will howl with laughter. How can you not when a series contains lines such as “My bonce having been knocked, I fell into a strange fantastical dream, rich in imaginative imagery. I found myself alone in a primitive land where phantasm, spelt with PH not an F, abounded. I turned one way. Then the other. Then back. Then forward. Then I saw myself as a monkey.” Or ” I ran the only way I knew how. By placing one leg in front of the other in quick succession.” Or even “An eternal story of love and loss, set against the backdrop of an abortive alien invasion. Though you don’t actually find out it’s abortive till the end of the show. It’s my Romeo and Juliet, but less whiny.”
Anyway, where else are you going to see a shoddy looking half boy half grasshopper attempt to play badminton with a grown adult who’s taking it far too seriously?
That’s it for this installment, but I’ll be back with more soon.
Check out all the episodes of Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace embedded below:
Once Upon a Beginning:
Hell Hath Fury:
Skipper the Eyechild:
The Apes of Wrath:
The Scotch Mist:
The Creeping Moss from the Shores of Shuggoth:
Darkplace: Horrificata Illuminata: (from the DVD extras)