Tuesday, 31 March 2009

UK TV Chart - w/e 15th March 2009

With apologies (yet again!) for the delay, here's rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 8th March 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures.

1) Comic Relief (BBC1)..........................9.84
2) Coronation Street (ITV1)......................9.82 *
3) EastEnders (BBC1).............................9.21 *
4) Kilamanjaro: The Red Nose Climb (BBC1)........9.20
5) Dancing On Ice (ITV1).........................9.03 *
6) Comic Relief Does The Apprentice (BBC1).......8.53
7) Wild At Heart (ITV1)..........................8.31
8) Let's Dance For Comic Relief (BBC1)...........8.26
9) Emmerdale (ITV1)..............................7.10 *
10) Comic Relief Does Top Of The Pops (BBC2)......7.09
11) Law And Order:UK (ITV1).......................6.61
12) Casualty (BBC1)...............................6.60
13) Lark Rise To Candleford (BBC1)................6.47
14) Antiques Roadshow (BBC1)......................6.11
15) No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (BBC1)..........5.84
16) National Lottery draws (BBC1, Sat)............5.79
17) Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (ITV1)..5.59
18) Holby City (BBC1).............................5.52
19) Harry Hill's TV Burp (ITV1)...................5.41
20) UEFA Champions League Football (ITV1, Tues)...5.29

Chart commentary: A definite 'Comic Relief' fund-raising vibe to the chart this week with no less than half of the Top Ten being composed of BBC Comic Relief-themed shows, from the long telethon itself narrowly edging out Coronation Street for the number one slot, to various other CR programmes - including a one-off Top of the Pops resurrection rating very well for BBC2. Yet still BBC1 won't think again about bringing back TOTP (without Fearne "wow, that was ama-zing" Cotton as host). Grr. Nice strong showing for the first episode of the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency -but sadly ratings have tumbled badly in the subsequent weeks and the show now pulls in just over 3million. What's the problem? Well, purists may be annoyed that the episodes don't really capture the languid spirit of McCall Smith's beautiful books - the TV show is a bit too full of incident - and maybe Sunday night isn't the right slot of a show this laid back. Shame though. ITV's Law and Order continues to impress with well over 6 million turning in every week and Ant and Dec must be alarmed to see the last show of their series faring so badly, sending them drifting perilously close to the bottom end of the chart. Back to kid's TV with you!!

The next ratings update will be posted tomorrow....honest!

TV review: RAAAARGG!! Primeval's back...

In the beginning (which, for the purposes of this piece, was March 2005), there was Dr Who. And Lo it was good. It was very good. It was very popular. In time it begat Robin Hood and Merlin and, God forgive it, Demons. And ITV looked upon Dr Who and they thought "Verily, we'll have us a bit of that" and asked the bloke who created Walking With Dinosaurs to invent a new Saturday night family adventure series - a bit like Dr Who - and with lots of monsters in it. And that man (Tim Haines) teamed up with another man (Adrian Hodges) and they created Primeval. And it was all right. And enough people watched it and liked it to persuade ITV chiefs, when they were not throwing mad money at the likes of Ant, Dec, S*m*on C*w*ll and P**rs M*rg*n, to bring it back for a second series and - Hallelujah! - a third. And that third one came to pass and started last weekend and...oh, to Hell with it (ahem)...I've had enough of this dodgy Biblical stuff... Primeval's back and after the torment and torture of ITV's last Saturday night family-friendly fantasy Demons (shudder) it's nice to be back on safer, more familiar, less embarrassing territory...

Primeval is one of those shows for which the oft-used expression "it does what it says on the tin" might well have been invented. For those who've not seen the series, in broad terms it details the adventures of scientist Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) who investigates 'anomolies' - twinkling, glittering 'holes' in Time - through which all sorts of savage prehistoric (and on occasion, futuristic) creatures make their way into the modern world and proceed to cause chaos. This is what happens in Primeval. Every week. And this is the show's core problem, really. It's an exciting format and it leads to all sorts of possibilities for all sorts of monsters - deadly insects, your traditional dinosaurs, sabre-tooths, crocodiles - but the problem is that the format is, by definition, a little bit self-limiting. It's not really too far wide of the mark to suggest that each and every episode of Primeval is more or less exactly the same. There's an anomoly, something comes through it, someone gets killed or maimed, Cutter and co turn up, there's a bit of a ruck, a bit of often-lovely CGI, Cutter and co chase the creature back where it came from. That's pretty much the plot of every episode of Primeval. But the show's makers have clearly realised that the format itself tends towards the repetitive and, since series two, the show has adopted the 'arc' principle so popular in most modern genre shows, introducing new characters, conspiracies, intrigue. It's worked to a greater or lesser extent and series two saw Cutter and his little gang recruited by the Arc Research Centre, headed up by sarky Home Office minister James Lester (Ben Miller on fine form) and the return of Cutter's wife Helen (Juliet Aubrey) whose 'disappearance' years before was the engine which drove much of the first series. Helen, as series three seems set to develop (at least in the short-term), has clearly been manipulating the 'anomolies' for her own purposes and now, it appears, has an army of cloned soldiers in her employ...

Series three kicked off with a pacey, lively little episode where...well....er...a creature escapes through an anomoly, Cutter and co chase it around for a bit and then....er...force it to go back where it came from. In some ways starting the new series with an episode which reminds the audience - and the last series finished a year ago so it's not unreasonable to imagine that some of the audience may have forgotten the nuts and bolts of the show's storytelling style - was probably a sensible move. There are hints of this year's arcs, of course - some sort of quest for an artefact which is clearly going to be of enormous narrative significance - but basically this first episode just set Cutter and his gang against a monster - a giant crocodile from Egyptian times, apparently - which threatens to wreak havoc across London. As an episode it's efficient and exciting and enjoyable - but it doesn't really relaunch the show with anything special. It just does what Primeval does. The new Dr Who series always makes an effort to start its new series each year with a bit of a 'bang' - a big, brash outrageous story which grabs it audience by the throat and screams 'Look, this is what we do, look how mad we are!' First episodes of new Who series seem to defy the audience to not watch the resut of the series. So watching Cutter and co take on a big crocodile as it trashes bits of London just seems a bit...been there, done that. It's not particularly big, it's not special, it doesn't really make the whole series must-see TV. All it really does is serve to underline the problems with Primeval and reminds the audience that, in actual fact, the show is just the same in the first episode of its third series as it was in the first of its first.

For the record, I'm firmly of the view that Primeval is a better, more consistently entertaining show than Robin Hood or Merlin - but that's purely a subjective viewpoint based on a preference for contemporary fantasy story-telling which puts real, modern people in extraordinary situations and entertains the audience by inviting them to see how they cope with something completely out of their sphere of experience. Robin Hood and Merlin, for all their modern sensibilities and production values, are far more 'samey' and derivative. Primeval seems to wear its shortcomings on its sleeve and, to be honest, isn't all that bothered about them. It's the place to go to see monsters on a Saturday night when Dr Who or The X Factor aren't on.

Primeval also isn't helped by its pretty undistinguished writing and its rather flat cast of characters. The scripts, required to do little else than introduce a new monster every week, don't have any particular dynamism; the characters speak the words which drive the story forward. But there's none of the beauty and lyricism of some of the best new Dr Who's, nothing in the stories which make you really think about the human condition. Lester has the coolest, snarkiest lines of dialogue and poor Douglas Henshall (with new wild man hair for the three episodes of series three he'll be in) is pretty much your generic scientist-cum-hero without any particular features which mark him out as anything other than your stone-faced leading man. His current sidekicks are even worse; ex-S Club 7 singer Hannah Spearitt plays Abby Maitland, a character so underwritten and underplayed (Spearitt barely seems to register on screen and often seems as if she's muttering her few lines of dialogue) she might as well not even be there and the goofy nerd character Connor (Andrewe Lee-Potts) gives it all he's got but he hasn't actually got very much apart form ther ability to get into tricky situations and then have a laugh about how stupid he is afterwards. But the first episode of series three seems to promise meatier stuff with the introduction of a new member to the team; Laila Rouss plays Dr Page, an Egyptologist/researcher who is persauded to join the Cutter crew when Cutter realises there might be a link between the creatures of myths and legends and the creatures which pop their heads through the anomolies and snarl a bit before being chased back. Episode two (written by Dr Who/Torchwood writer James Moran so may see an upswing in the quality of the show's writing) will see the introduction of another new character, a tough nonsense cop named Danny Collins who takes a bit too much of an interesting in the goings-on of the arc. With Cutter on his way out Collins, played by tough buy ator Jason Flemyng, may add a bit more steel to the show and give it a bit more of a pulse and a sense of purpose beyond its raison d'etre of parading snarling monsters across the screen every week.

It probably looks a bit as if I don't like Primeval but nothing cxould be further form the truth. It's a great big romp of a show, it's loads of fun for a Saturday night but, when those nights have, over the last few years, been the domain of the far more sophisticated and multi-layer Dr Who, Primeval's one-note yarns can be a bit wearing and simplistic and it's ard not to wish that the writers could find a way to broaden the show's ambition. But ultimately, despite ehw twists and turns and the odd developing narrative, at its heart Primneval's about monsters. That's what it does. And it's no bad thing. It's nice to have it back, keeping Dr Who's seat warm; it's a blessed relief after the dismal Demons and while it would be satisfying to imagine that the show's performance - it has around 6 million followers per week - would be enough to persuade "ITV chiefs" of its worth in the schedule, despite the fact it's probably a high-cost project. But news reaches me this very evening that Impossible Pictures, who make Primeval, have been told by ITV that a fourth series is no longer required and thus the extensive pre-production done for next year's series has been halted - although Impossible are, apparently, trying to find funding in America for a Stateside reboot of the series. This isn't confirmed yet but it doesn't surprise me - ITV are obviously keen to reposition themselves as the "reality/talent' Network with a bit of soap opera thrown in to their mix to fulfil its drama remit. So it looks like we'd better make the most of the next nine weeks of Primeval, enjoy its unpretentious pleasures and just go with the flow - I suspect it'll be a very long time before ITV commissions TV like this again for a Saturday or indeed any other night.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Easter TV Preview 2: Dr Who's scariest monster?

Much (well, some) has been made in the UK press about "the scariest Dr Who monster ever", set to appear in this Easter's sixty-minute Dr Who special 'Planet of the Dead'. Reliable UK tabloids (sarcasm mode engaged) promised terrifying fly-like aliens which, it was suggested, might even reappear throughout the rest of the special episodes this year/early next year (which seems unlikely now though). You may already have seen some of the pics of this new monster, the Tritovore, which have been springing up on various sites and forums (and you can go directly to to the images - and more - by clicking on the post title immediately below). But in case you're too lazy and want me to do all the work for you, here's a pic of Dr Who's new alien. Scariest ever?? Whaddya think, Stuffers?

Er.....Can I come back to you on that one???

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Easter TV Preview: He Is Coming...

He's back! And it's about time...etc... We're just a couple of weeks away now from the broadcast of the first of this year's Dr Who special episodes (in the absence of a full new series). These are, of course, the last episodes to feature David Tennant and 'Planet of the Dead', due to be screened over Easter (maybe not on Easter Saturday so keep your eyes peeled!) is now,presumably, finished and ready for the off. The first proper publicity pics are finding their way onto the net now so, by way of a taster, here's one for you. 'Planet of the Dead' guest-stars Michelle Ryan, Lee Evans and Adam James and sees the Doctor fighting the alien Tritovores on two worlds. With the help of a red London bus. Only on Dr Who...

Click the post title above to be directed to the 'Spoiler TV' site and a string of new images from the episode. Spoilerphobes beware!!!

UK TV Charts - w/e 8th March 2009

With apologies (again!) for the delay, here's rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 8th March 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures.

1) Coronation Street (ITV1)......................10.04 *
2) Dancing On Ice (ITV1)..........................9.33 *
3) EastEnders (BBC1)..............................8.57 *
4) Wild At Heart (ITV1)...........................8.52
5) Let's Dance For Comic Relief (BBC1)............8.44
6) Emmerdale (ITV1)...............................7.37 *
7) Casualty (BBC1)................................7.05
8) Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (ITV1)...7.00
9) Lark Rise To Candleford (BBC1).................6.78
10) Antiques Roadshow (BBC1).......................6.73
11) National Lottery Saturday Draws (BBC1).........6.48
12) Law and Order:UK (ITV1)........................6.24
13) Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1)...............5.99
14) Harry Hill's TV Burp (ITV1)....................5.97
15) Holby City (BBC1)..............................5.93
16) P**rs M*rg*n's Life Stories (ITV1).............5.74
17) Rogue Traders (BBC1)...........................5.32
18) Creature Comforts (ITV1).......................5.06
19) The Bill (ITV1)................................5.00 *
20) Watchdog (BBC1)................................4.94

Chart commentary: Another week, another chart - and nothinbg much to write hoime about. The Top ten remains static with its soap sandwich with a bit of celebrity dancing/skating to break up/increase the monotony. Fortunately 5 of this week's top ten shows are just about to reach the end of their runs so it'll be ncie to see a few new titles in the chart in the next couple of weeks. Distressing to see the odious P**rs "My chat show's more popular than Jonathan Ross's" M*rg*n's Sunday night car crash still doing well - although I suspoect that's more due to the very ITV list of celebs M*rg*n choses to grill - I mean, come on: Ulrika, Sharon Osbourne, Jordan...pretty much aiming squarely at ITV's key demographic there, a handful of names who are at the core of ITV's reputation problems at the moment. Elsewhere Law and Order:Uk holds up weel in week two - its figures are pretty steady now at the 6 million plus mark so future series must be assured. The drawing of a few Lottery numbers continues to appeal on a Saturday night (I won a tenner last night!) and BBC stalwarts Watchdog and Rogue Traders slip under the radar to grab a couple of slots towards the end of the chart - showing, if nothing else, that the British viewing public likes to see its fellow punters in distress.

My Pod - Music and Stuff : Pet Shop Boys: Pop Art

Incredibly, it’s now been a solid quarter-century since quirky British pop duo Pet Shop Boys - that's Neil Tennant (the singer) and Chris Lowe (er...the other one) - first found their way into the nation’s charts (and, briefly, hearts) with their debut hit ‘West End Girls’. A string of albums and singles have followed and whilst the band’s commercial fortunes have been steadily declining since 1988 (‘Domino Dancing’ was the first evidence of ‘novelty wearing off’ syndrome) they’ve continued to steadily plug away, churning out an album every three years or so and, now and again, reminding us how good they are at creating a finely-crafted pop melody and irresistible hook, often in a musical climate where such qualities don’t have the currency they once might have. On the eve of the release of their anticipated new album ‘Yes’, produced by Girls Aloud pop gurus Xenomania, who also know a cracking pop tune when they create one, Stuff decided to dig out its copy of ‘Pop Art’ their 2002 two-disc celebration of all their greatest hits and more, just to remind itself of their remarkable, memorable, irritatingly-good body of work over the last 25 years.

What do you think of when (or if) you think of Pet Shop Boys? Their music evokes many things; sleazy London streets, rainy nights, romantic disillusionment, frustrated dreams and ambitions, a certain not-quite-rightness about the human condition. They capture all this in a string of jaunty, romping, thudding electronic pop songs and, now and then, in something mournful and achingly melancholic. ‘Pop Art’ gathers together all these moments in an impressive, wide-reaching trawl through their back catalogue which is as often punctuated by outrageously-camp high NRG disco anthems as it is yearning love songs.

Unusually for ‘best of’s (and ‘Pop Art’ is so much more) it’s not a chronological journey. CD1 – ‘Pop’ – more or less does what it says on the tin. Kicking off with an almost too-gay version of ‘Go West’, the album backtracks to their first run of hits with the racing beat of ‘Suburbia’ with its backdrop of barking dogs and a real sense of urban urgency. ‘Se a Vida e’, from 1993, is one of the pairs’ occasional dabbling with a light latin sound – it’s there again in the aforementioned ‘Domino Dancing’ and their classic Dusty Springfield collaboration ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This’, still sounding fresh and vibrant, rubs shoulders with their energised cover version of ‘Always On My Mind’, the Christmas number one as long ago as 1987, long before Cowell and his creatures took the fun out of the festive top 40. The Boys’ High NRG disco rhythms manage to sound both old-fashioned and yet oddly beyond fashion and tracks like ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing’, ‘New York City Boy’ and ‘Yesterday, When I Was Mad’ (On the ‘Art’ CD) are absolute guilty pleasures to 2009 ears. ‘Love Comes Quickly’, at the time a disappointing follow-up to the brilliant ‘West End Girls’ (to be found on ‘Art’) has grown in stature over the years; forgettable in 1984 it now sounds mellow and considered, foreshadowing later, more contemplative tracks such as ‘Home and Dry’ and ‘Before’, two quirky, naggingly-catchy under-achieving singles from more recent albums. Then there’s ‘It’s A Sin’ and I have to admit its charms always passed me by; I preferred the less bombastic pop of ‘Heart’ and even the near-operatic ‘Left To My Own Devices’.

‘Art’, as well as burying ‘West End Girls’ somewhere in the middle of its running order (possibly to draw attention to less familiar treasures around it) gathers up some forgotten or otherwise undiscovered gems. ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ (from their silly-pointy-hats-in-the-video phase) crackles with witty, acerbic lyrics (a band trademark, their clever lyricism is often overlooked by the sheer pop bravado of their tunes) and who, honestly, could resist songs with titles like ‘I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Any More’ or ‘You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk’ which are as smart and sassy and cheeky as they sound. ‘Art’ also features another early hint, the wistful ‘Rent’ (“I love you, you pay my rent”) as well as the crashing ‘So Hard’ and the 1995 remix of ‘Paninaro’, their ode to wafer-thin Italian street boys who, apparently, were all the fashion in the mid-to-late 1980s. Apparently.

Pet Shop Boys never took the easy route when it came to cover versions and the handful here are, apart from house anthem ‘It’s Aright’, as inspired and insane as you might imagine. The Boys’ feet are firmly on the floor when it comes to ‘Always On My Mind’ and ‘Go West’ and ‘Somewhere’, from ‘West Side Story’, is easily one of the most preposterously over-the-top and yet joyously-uplifting pieces of electro-pop you’re ever likely to wrap your ears around. And who else but Pet Shop Boys could see the connection between U2’s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ and Andy Williams’ ‘Can’t take My Eyes Off You’ and then fuse them together over a disco beat even Che Guevara and Debussy couldn’t resist?
It’s not disco pop all the way though. I’ve tended to be a bit indifferent about the Boys’ ballads – even now they seem a bit weak and underpowered. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the likes of ‘Jealousy’, ‘I Get Along’ and ‘Liberation’ but the chances are you’ll be pressing the ‘skip’ button more often than you’ll sit and listen to them all the way through.

Pet Shop Boys are 25. The hits are thinner on the ground than they once were and they tend to fly in and out of the charts as their fanbase gets older or loses interest. Their latest single, ‘Love Etc’ is probably their best single in over a decade and it’s just landed in the charts at number 14, likely to be its highest position in a chart still dominated by mid-tempo r’n’b and talent show one-hit wonders. But at least the Boys are still around – older and maybe wiser (they’re both in their fifties now, that’s just not right!) – and they’re still doing what they do best; making great, timeless pop. Stuff’ll be reviewing the new album later in the week, its appetite well and truly whetted by reminding itself of the genius of Pet Shop Boys in the ‘Pop Art’ set – it’s pretty much indispensible for anyone with even a passing interest in throwaway pop music which stands the test of time. It’s brilliant. Pet Shop Boys are brilliant. End of.

Movie Review: Watching Watchmen...


Starring: Jackie Earle Bailey, Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman

Directed by: Zack Snyder

This one was always going to be a problem. It was always going to be divisive. I consider myself fortunate in that I went in to my local fleapit (it’s actually not a fleapit, of course – cinemas are all very nice and slick and air-conditioned and homogenous these days, obviously) to see the long-awaited feature film adaptation of the legendary landmark graphic novel (comic book) Watchmen with no real preconceptions. Now I’ve seen it (and I saw it the day after it opened, it’s just taken me a while to find the time to put my Stuff review together) I’ve come to the conclusion that the audience which will enjoy it most is the one that hasn’t read the comic book and isn’t, like the hand-wringing comic book crowd, anguishing about how it’s too slavish to the comic/not slavish enough to the comic (delete as applicable).

I don’t really know a lot about the comic book (although a friend loaned me the graphic novel years ago but I was not long out of my decade-long love affair with marvel Comics and I wasn’t in the mood to wander back into the four-colour world so I never got beyond the first half-dozen pages) so I sat in front of the movie with a clear, untroubled mind and just the film unfold. That’s the way to do it. That’s the way you’ll either enjoy the film or loathe it with a passion. However it’s quite unlikely you’ll love Watchmen because it’s just not that sort of movie. It’s dark, it’s edgy, it’s ludicrous and it’s sometimes even a bit uncomfortable; if you like it at all you’ll come away from it impressed by its style and the sheer technical achievement of it and while you’ll probably want to watch it again on DVD you’ll most likely not want to rush back to the Multiplex to revisit it.

That said, I found the movie a tense, bizarre and engrossing experience. I think we’ve probably all become a bit ambivalent about superhero movies and, by and large, what we get from these sorts of films these days is pretty much what we expected. For every dark and angsty (and, in my opinion, monstrously over-rated) Dark Knight there’s a rampantly-confident Iron Man or an underachieving Incredible Hulk, a disappointingly-lifeless Daredevil, a pointless Ghost Rider or a childish (but fun) Fantastic Four. Watchmen, as it should , takes it cues from these sorts of characters, most of whom are rooted in the ‘real’ world (whether it’s a comic book version of New York or some fanciful everyman American city named Gotham or metropolis) and deposits them, perversely enough, in an ‘alternative’ timeline of the mid-1980s. In Watchmen world the nuclear superpowers are at each other’s through and Armageddon looks just about inevitable. The world’s staring at oblivion. Meanwhile superheroes are real (or at least, there’s a tendency for vigilantes, often without any genuine special abilities to tog themselves up in spandex and capes and beat the crap out of bad guys); the only character with any real super-powers is Dr Manhattan (Crudup) who, in the best traditions of all super-heroes, has his origins as a mortal scientist blasted into atoms in a My-God-it’s-gone-wrong experiment who is lately reconstituted as a bald, blue, emotionless and...er...disconcertingly naked God-being who, it seems, may be the key to the future of all Mankind. As the movie opens – with a spectacularly brutal fight sequence which sets the tone for much of the bone-crunching which is to follow – superheroes have been discredited and are being systematically slaughtered by some murderous assassin. The mysterious Rorschach (Bailey) is investigating the murders and ultimately, with the aid of fellow long-retired costumed weirdos Silk Spectre and Night Owl, uncovers a conspiracy which threatens to save the world in the most appalling of ways. And will Dr Manhattan, tired of the vagaries of the human race, really turn his back on his own people for a life of cold solitude on Mars?

Watchmen is a rich and vivid experience. Afficionados may be irritated by the liberties it plays, apparently, with its source material (beardy weirdy writer Alan Moore has long since disowned the movie – and after his previous big screen experiences with disastrous versions of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta it’s hard not to blame him for being cautious) but the legendarily-unfilmable nature of the graphic novel was always going to be problematic in persuading any audience – particularly an audience which has read the comic book more times than might really be considered healthy – to give the movie version the benefit of the doubt. Being unfamiliar with the original I can’t say what’s been left in and what’s been left out and which of either has been beneficial or damaging to the film.

Judged as a movie, though, there’s much to admire in a film which has so clearly been a labour of love for director Snyder. I don’t have the images of the comic book panels engraved on the inside of the eyelids but even I can imagine which scenes are immaculate reconstructions of cherished comic book frames, which scenes are lovingly-crafted moving picture realisations of iconic Dave Gibbons illustrations. And I’m sure that the hardcore fans, ambivalent as they may be about the film as a whole, must be impressed by the way Snyder has at least tried to bring the unfilmable to the screen in as respectful a way as possible.

So ignoring those difficult comic book vs movie version issues, Watchmen the movie is gritty and unforgiving experience. There are no concessions here to the traditional ‘kid appeal’ of the genre. The Watchmen are real people with all the very real fears and foibles that comic books are always struggling to portray accurately. They want - or rather, wanted - to be superheroes without the benefit of radioactive spider-bites or gamma ray accidents to imbue them with superhuman abilities (although most of them seem to have extraordinary agility and reflexes). When they fight the bad guys they quite literally tear them apart; blood flies, bones are torn from flesh, necks are graphically snapped. There’s no ‘sock, pow’ Batman punch-ups here. The characters are full of foibles and insecurities and whilst there’s much that’s unexplained – how does Rorschach’s mask do that ink-blot thing anyway? – none of it seems to matter because the visual style of the story-telling is so strong and the narrative, whilst a bit fractured and episodic, so compelling, it’s hard not to get swept up in the unsettling atmosphere of the whole thing. It’s a movie that’s not afraid to shock; the Comedian’s callous murdering of a pregnant woman is unbearably-cruel, the prison riot which sees Rorschach sprung from jail (and his casual dispatching of his tormentors) is stomach-churning and the devastation wreaked on a major city by a nuclear explosion is frankly terrifying.

What’s it all about, at the end of the day? What, exactly, is the point of Watchmen? It may be that Moore and Gibbons’ vision has been dulled a bit by the passage of time – certainly its Cold War/nuclear annihilation backdrop dates it as much as its disorientating – and distancing – setting of the action in an alternative 1980s world which doesn’t actually exist. Maybe it’s hard to care about characters from a world like or own but not actually our own. Because I found that I didn’t actually care about the characters much. Rorschach’s determination and callousness make him a character to find fascinating if not likable whereas Dr Manhattan, wandering about with his bits hanging out, is just a bit too larger-than-life and emotionally-detached to be engaging. So it’s left to Night Owl and Silk Spectre to display some humanity and, despite an indifferent performance from Akerman as the latter, their burgeoning, fumbling romance gives the film an emotional angle it would otherwise be struggling to find – even though their eventual coupling in the big-eyed Owlship (I want one!) to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ elicits more sniggers from the audience than might have been anticipated.

So make of Watchmen what you will – and what you make of it really will depend on whether you come at it from the position of fan or casual film-goer. As a movie it’s a tough one to quantify and it’s a tough one to describe. It’s always spectacular – the visual effects are genuinely breath-taking – there’s always something interesting to look at on the screen, the story really does make sense within the confines of the world it’s being told in – and it has all the sensibilities of the modern superheroes movie without being anything like any of them. As a film it’s probably fair to say that Watchmen is ultimately more to be admired than adored. It may not be the best superhero ever made, but it’s almost certainly the most extraordinary.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

UK TV Charts - w/e 1st March 2009

A rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 1st March 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures.

1) Coronation Street (ITV1).................9.46 *
2) EastEnders (BBC1)........................9.04 *
3) Dancing On Ice (ITV1)....................8.92 *
4) Wild At Heart (ITV1).....................8.30
5) Emmerdale (ITV1).........................7.29 *
6) Law And Order:UK (ITV1)..................6.96
7) UEFA Champions League Football (ITV1)....6.92
8) Let's Dance For Comic Relief (BBC1)......6.90
9) Casualty (BBC1)..........................6.84
10) National Lottery Draws (Sat) (BBC1)......6.44
11) Lark Rise To Candleford (BBC1)...........6.34
12) Ant and Dec's...Takeaway (ITV1)..........6.23
13) Rugby Six Nations (Sat) (BBC1)...........5.96
14) Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1).........5.82
15) Antiques Roadshow (BBC1).................5.77
16) University Challenge (BBC2)..............5.61
17) Watchdog (BBC1)..........................5.47
18) Harry Hill's TV Burp (ITV1)..............5.46
19) Holby City (BBC1)........................5.44
20) Wendy Richard: A Tribute (BBC1)..........5.35

Chart commentary: 'Coronation Street' has lately been powering away from its BBC rival 'EastEnders' in recent months and, in fact, the same remains true this week but one poorly-rating Friday episode of 'Coronation Street' dragged down its average and appears to cut down the gap between the two. A strong first showing for 'Law and Order:UK' on ITV; it's the new Monday night crime drama 'created' by 'Torchwood's' Richard Stokes and Chris Chibnall. Looks like another ITV Monday night banker - episode two (final ratings to be released next week) saw a drop but this week's third episode rallied again and should settle with a similar final figure to the first. It's a hit and is certain to be recommissioned, even with ITV currently counting the pennies in its purse and looking for loose change down the back of the settee. A rare BBC2 entry with an impressive 5.61 tuning in for the final of this year's 'University Challenge' - Bamber would be so proud. Ant and Dec can only be worried to see their once-unbeatable 'Takeaway' now appealing to less viewers than BBC1's sleepy Sunday night drama 'Lark Rise To Candleford' and the 'National Lottery Draws'. You've got to laugh. Nicky Campbell's 'Watchdog' makes one of its occasional forays into the Top 20....which reminds me of a devastating critique of the show in TV pundit Charlie 'Screen Wipe' Brooker's 'Dawn of the Dumb' TV review collection which I read just last night (pick it up for £3 at your local HMV!) and has effectively now made it impossible for me to even consider watching any show hosted by Campbell even if I ever so be so inclined - which I'm probably not. That Charlie Brooker...he's a very naughty boy.

TV Archive: Meet the 'Party Animals...

So there I was, casually channel-surfing a couple of weeks ago, when I chanced upon BBC4’s repeat screening of the first episode of the 2007 BBC2 original drama ‘Party Animals’, a show which had rather underperformed on its terrestrial debut but was now being exhumed, presumably, on the back of renewed interest in one of its stars. His name’s Matt Smith and in a few months time he’ll be taking up his duties at the controls of the TARDIS in ‘Dr Who’. So yes, I paused at BBC4 just to get a look at this bloke and maybe try to get a broad idea of how he might fare as he prepares to step into David Tennant’s formidable Converses. But after a few minutes I’d forgotten I was there just to see one bloke; I quickly became engrossed in this slick, fast, sexy drama set in the potentially-fusty world of the modern young politician. By the end of the episode I was gripped, I was hooked, I was online bagging myself a copy of the three-DVD set of the series (nabbed for a few pence over a tenner – bargain!)

Now I’m not really a political creature. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit you could probably jot down my political knowledge on the back of a stamp – I’m fairly confident we’ll see no female Prime Minister in my lifetime – but I like to think I know a good drama when I see one. ‘Party Animals’ is literally light years away from my preferred diet of fantasy/adventure series but, having now watched all episodes of the series (and that in itself is no mean feat as I’ve lost count of the number of chunky boxsets I’ve bought over the years only to leave them sitting unloved and barely watched on my shelves) I can say that this series is probably the best modern real-world drama series I’ve seen since ‘This Life’ back in the 1990s. And thereby hangs a tale...

Back in the mid-1990s BBC2’s ‘This Life’, the story of a bunch of free-wheeling, free-loving, sexy young lawyers sharing a house in South London and setting out on their careers in the legal profession, was very much the defining drama of its time. Shot almost documentary-style it combined racey storylines, in-your-face depictions of drug culture and casual sex to create unmissable landmark watercooler television and launched the careers of its cast of unknowns – specifically Jack Davenport, Jason Hughes, Andrew Lincoln – who are still regular faces on film and television today. TV has been crying out for a new ‘This Life’ ever since the series ended after two series and it’s quite clear that ‘Party Animals’, created by independent production company World Productions and with a snappy (if brief) guitar-riff theme tune, was intended to be just that. In fact, ‘Party Animals’ wants to be ‘This Life’ so much it almost hurts. Who knows, then, why ‘Party Animals’ failed so badly where ‘This Life’ soared? Maybe smug young policitians in the 21st century – when we’re all bit jaded and cynical about our clueless political leaders – aren’t as attractive a dramatic proposition nowadays as smug young lawyers were in the more affluent 1990s? Maybe back then young people actually aspired to being lawyers whereas the world of politics is about as appealing a prospect to today’s young adults as the latest Will Young album (ie not very appealing at all).

It’s a damn shame because ‘Party Animals’ is gripping, compulsive telly. Like ‘This Life’ (and it’s hard not to keep making the comparison) the show focuses on a tight group of characters. The core of the show are Scott Foster (Andrew Buchan) and his brother Danny (Matt Smith). Staunch Labour men, Scott’s a charismatic lobbyist and Danny’s an edgy, intense junior researcher working out of the office of minister Jo Porter (Raquel Cassidy) and carrying a torch for feisty fellow-researched Kirsty (Andrea Riseborough). Over in the Tory camp sleazy shadow minister James Northcote (Patrick Baladi) is engaged in a furtive affair with the glamourous and ambitious Ashika (Shelley Conn). As the series opens Jo loses a Commons debate when Danny accidentally leaves her speech in a pub toilet and it finds its way to Northcote who sabotages her arguments and demolishes them. The culprit Danny is in the firing line and in the space of one tightly-written episode relationships and characters are deftly established and the shock episode ending – the death of Scott’s drugged-up flatmate – sets the series off at a right old pace.

The remaining seven episodes see Ashika moving away from James as she puts herself up as a candidate in a fiercely-Labour constituency at a local by-election and comes into the orbit of ladies’ man Scott. Danny’s battling with his own career and ambitions and the fact he can’t make any headway with Kirsty and Jo Porter finds her life unravelling as her family life comes a very distant second to her professional life. Elsewhere there’s political plotting and back-stabbing, trendy drug-taking, conspiracy and intrigue stalking the sacred halls of Westminster. It all sounds like dry stuff but it’s never dense and unfathomable and it’s shot through with the same dry wit and compelling narrative which worked for ‘This Life’.

‘Party Animals’ is blessed with a terrific cast. Yes, Smith is great – I’m excited to see what he can bring to ‘Dr Who’ as he’s a supremely talented young actor – but kudos must go to Buchan as Scott and Shelly Conn as the determined Ashika whose continued attraction to Scott threatens to be her downfall. Especially good are Patrick Baladi (still best remembered from his turn as Neil, the Swindon boss in series two of ‘The Office’) and the brilliant Raquel Cassidy, so good as Jack Dee’s long-suffering partner in ‘Lead Balloon’.

Like the first series of ‘This Life’, ‘Party Animals’ ends on something of a cliffhangar. Ashika’s coming to terms with the result of the by-election and what she sees as Scott’s betrayal when photographic evidence of her affair with Northcote reaches the Press and threatens to scupper her political career before it’s really begun, James is scurrying back to his wife and Scott and Danny are reunited despite their differences. Oh for a series two... But sadly it was not to be as the show failed to find a substantial audience on BBC2 and failed to achieve a much-deserved recommission.

I’m so pleased I’ve belatedly discovered ‘Party Animals’ and am just a bit miffed I avoided it at the time because, like much of its potential audience, I didn’t think I’d be interested in a stuffy political drama. So whether you track it down because you fancy a look at this Smith feller or because, like me, you stumbled across it on BBC4, you could do a lot worse than get stuck into this little gem of a series because, as ever, it’s so refreshing to watch intelligent television drama which credits its audience with more than a modicum of intelligence. If you loved ‘This Life’ you will love ‘Party Animals’ – and that’s probably the strongest commendation I can give it.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

UK TV Charts - w/e 22nd February 2009

With apologies for the late posting, here's the rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 22nd February 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures.

1) Coronation Street (ITV1)..................10.33 *
2) Dancing On Ice (ITV1).......................9.17 *
3) EastEnders (BBC1)...........................8.80 *
4) Whitechapel (ITV1)..........................8.72
5) Wild At Heart (ITV1)........................8.21
6) Emmerdale (ITV1)............................7.47 *
7) Let's Dance For Comic Relief (BBC1).........7.06
8) Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway(ITV1).6.81
9) Casualty (BBC1).............................6.37
10) Antiques Roadshow (BBC1)....................6.35
11) Lark Rise To Candleford (BBC1)..............6.32
12) Taggart (ITV1)..............................5.97
13) National Lottery draws (Saturday) (BBC1)....5.93
14) Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1)............5.64
15) Holby City (BBC1)...........................5.57
16) The Brit Awards (ITV1)......................5.49
17) Mistresses (BBC1)...........................5.28
18) Billy Connolly's Journey To The Edge of the
World (ITV1)....5.19
19) (The Bill (ITV1).............................4.92
19) (Piers Morgan's Life Stories (ITV1)..........4.92

Chart commentary: A few new titles livening up the chart this week. 'Let's Dance For Comic Relief' may be all or a good cause, yada yada but at the end of the day it's just a conveniently easy excuse for BBC1 to air a 'Strictly' clone for a few weeks - and sadly the UK public are falling for it as the show rates increasingly well week on week. Cause for alarm over at ITV (a familiar feeling these days) as Geordie golden boys-cum-jumped-up kid's TV presenters Ant and Dec find their 'takeaway' being...er...taken away by less viewers this year. Time for some new ideas, eh boys? The second series of BBC1 drama 'Mistresses' scores respectable numbers for its first new episode and 'Lark Rise' continues to perform strongly on Sunday nights, providing the sort of soft, undemanding drama ITV have now abandoned, it seems. It's no great surprise to hear the series has been renewed for a third run next year. I'm severely miffed to find myself having to type the dreaded P**rs M**rg*an's name again as his down-market new Sunday night interview show slips into the bottom of the Top 20. His last series, three episodes of the odious creep traipsing around the world, fell fast after a strong start and we can only hope for the same with this new show - although Morgan's shrewd guest roster of ITV chav favourites like Sharon Osbourne and Jordan will probably bring in audiences big enough for M*rg*an to continue to crow about how well he's doing compared to Jonathan Ross and his infinitely better Friday night show (which no longer troubles the chart after its reappearance a few weeks back). Stuff doesn't like M*rg*n 'round 'ere... Whither Harry Hill and his Tv Burp? A few weeks ago the show was comfortably inside the Top Ten every week; ITV have shunted it forward to a slot just after 6pm to accommodate the new flop Chris Tarrant quiz whose name has temporarily escaped me - and in the process Harry's now struggling with just over 4 million and is shaded out of the Top 20. And ITV wonder where it all went wrong when they can't even schedule their few hit shows properly...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

My Pod - Music and Stuff: U2 - No Line On The Horizon

It’s been a tough few months for British guitar bands. With the UK still pretty much in the thrall of r’n’b, dance music and Simon Cowell’s endless stream of frightened-rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights Mariah Carey-wannabes, proper bands with guitars and singers and songwriters have been edged out a bit and have found it increasingly-difficult to keep a toehold in the nation’s consciousness. The Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight, Snow Patrol and even Oasis have found reaching out to the download generation a little harder than they might have expected. Despite the fact that the term ‘hit single’ is now pretty meaningless as the actual physical CD/7” single suffers a long and painful death, any new album needs a big hit – a song people will go out of their way to actually purchase – to give its parent album a decent chance of hanging around longer than the inevitable couple of weeks guaranteed by those initial hardcore fanbase purchases. None of the once-reliable guitar bands to have put out new material in the last six months or so have scored a notable ‘hit’ and as a consequence their albums have found their way into the bargain bins with unseemly haste.

So what fate awaits U2, the biggest, most popular – arguably most pretentious – of our guitar bands as they launch ‘No Line On The Horizon’, their umpteenth album, their first for four years? With the first single, the slightly derivative and unexceptional ‘Get On Your Boots’, peaking only at no 12 in the single charts and already plunging, the omens don’t seem to be good. But U2, of all the guitar bands, are really all about the body of work, the whole album. They’ve regularly scored hit singles but their reputation’s been earned through their albums and titles like ‘The Joshua Tree’ and ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ are pretty much landmark albums in the history of contemporary rock music. And regardless of whether ‘No Line On The Horizon’ spends a month or a year in the album charts, Stuff can report that the band have turned in another bold, confident and – excuse my own personal pomposity – majestic sets of songs which won’t disappoint fans who’ve stood by the band for the last quarter of a century or so.

I wouldn’t say I’m a devoted fan of U2 – I can’t recite their lyrics with any degree of confidence and I wouldn’t really go out of my way to see them live (it takes a very special act to get me to stand in a big stadium with 50,000 complete strangers of varying degrees of sanity) but I’m surprised, flicking through my CD collection, at how many of U2’s albums – mainly the more recent ones – I’ve actually got. I think the fact is that most of us like a little bit of U2 and it’s a testament to their power and their popularity that they have the potential to remain as relevant today as they ever were in their late 1980s heyday. Hell, the fact they’re even still out there and making new music and not slogging around the nostalgia circuit says at least something in their favour...

So to ‘No Line on the Horizon’ and it’s very much business as usual for U2, a band who have rarely been followers of fashion (and when they have in the past – cough ‘Pop’ cough – they’ve tended to come a bit of a cropper) so here they’ve stuck to their tried and tested formula – long-time collaborators Brian Eno, Steven lilywhite and Daniel (Danny?) Lanois are back on board – and the sound remains much the same. If anything #No Line on the Horizon’ is a bit more contemplative than some of their more recent work. There are a couple of chunky rockers here – the aforementioned single, which sounds a bit stronger in the context of the album it was written for ‘Stand-Up Comedy’ and the powerful, rolling beats of ‘Breathe’ and ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’, characterized by the Edge’s chiming guitarwork, evokes U2 at their rawest and reminds me of the first time I heard ‘New Year’s Day’ back in 1984 and wondered what this guitar stuff was doing in my pop chart.

But the album works better when U2 are being a bit more laid back. The title track is mature and wistful, the sound of a band contemplating its own mortality and track two, ‘Magnificent’. Has the air of a late 1980s soft rocker about it – and it’s none the worse for the comparison. The outstanding tracks on the album are the two real lighter-in-the-air tunes; ‘Moment of Surrender’ is a long, languorous thing of beauty, genuinely touching and uplifting and in another singles chart world would be a guaranteed number one. Then there’s ‘White As Snow’, a delicate, touching ballad, an elegy for lost innocence. ‘Unknown Caller’ impresses with its typically U2 harmonies (with all four boys in the band contributing to the unorthodox chorus) whilst album closer ‘Cedars of Lebanon’ sort of fizzles out and probably demans more relistenings than the rest of the album will probably allow it.

I’m utterly, abjectly unqualified to judge how ‘No Line on the Horizon’ compares with U2’s massive output to date – I have to judge it on its own terms as a body of work. Yes, I’ve enjoyed U2 albums in the past but there’s a handful of strong songs here I’ll come back to again and again in the coming months (and there’s rumoured to be another album coming at the end of the year, so prodigious were the sessions for this collection). In a climate more favourable to guitar bands ‘No Line on the Horizon’ would be a chart fixture for most of the year – at the moment it’s hard to predict what fate will befall it in the weeks to come when U2’s fans have snapped it up (and they’ve snapped it up to the tune of 65,000 in the first day alone so far). Whether it’s up there with their best work is up or whether it’s just another workmanlike album by U2 is up to others to discuss/decide but it’s certainly impressed me as a powerful, strident set of songs from, a band who, by rights, should be drifting slowly into musical senility by now. ‘No Line on the Horizon’ gets a big musical thumbs-up from me and I’ll doubt if we hear a better mainstream guitar album in 2009.

Stuff coming soon: Watchmen...24...Party Animals...No 1 Ladies Detective Agency...

Monday, 2 March 2009

Book Review: T Is For Television

‘The Writer’s Tale’ a big, chunky BBC Books publication released last October, chronicling a year’s worth of e-mail correspondence between Dr Who show-runner Russell T Davies and Dr Who Magazine feature writer Benjamin Cook, was not only one of the best coffee table books about Dr Who ever written, it was also one of the very best books about writing for television ever published. Stark, brutally-honest and unflinchingly candid about the agonies (and sometimes the ecstasies) of being a fully paid-up professional full-time writer, the book laid bare the writing process and revealed the truth behind the rewrites, the late nights, the doubts and uncertainties which plague even a writer of Davies’s considerable talent and experience. As I finished the book I felt I wanted to know more – not just about Davies but about Davies as a writer, about his body of work and how it all happened. Cue ‘T is For Television’, a captivating page-turner written by Mark Aldridge and Andy Murray and published by Reynolds and Hearn which tells you all you could ever really want to know about the career of the man who reinvented Saturday night telly in the UK and whose surname most assuredly isn’t Cowell.

‘T Is For Television’ is part biography, part career analysis. The book takes us right back to Davies’s childhood, the days spent as a bit of a loner wandering the streets of Swansea creating Dr Who stories in his head and imagining all sorts of school playground conspiracies. We’re taken through his early years at the BBC in Cardiff, how he blundered into script-writing shows like ‘Why Don’t You’ (because the producer couldn’t be bothered and delegated the writing to Davies), subverting the genre of children’s TVin the process before progressing onto script-editing other shows (and narrowly avoiding a stint on doomed ITV soap ‘Crossroads’). It was a long, wandering road for Davies until he was commissioned to write the six-part kid’s TV thriller ‘Dark Season’ starring a young Kate Winslet – you may have heard of her - and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history. ‘T is For Television’ takes us through every show Davies has worked on since in whatever capacity he worked on it, from ITV daytime soaps like ‘Revelations,’ barely-watched Sky dramas like ‘Springhill’, and as a contributing writer to series such as ‘Linda Green’ and his own projects including as the notorious but landmark ‘Queer As Folk’ and all those shows which followed in its wake. ‘T is for Television’s strength as a book is that it’s not written in awe of its subject; the writers are happy to point out the flaws in Davies’ shows, whether they’re flaws in concept, writing, or production and Davies himself, apparently interviewed extensively for the book, is remarkably honest about those of his shows (and that’s quite a lot of them) which just didn’t find an audience – ‘Bob & Rose’ (although its six million figures for prime time ITV today would be counted as a considerable success), ‘The Grand’ and ‘Mine All Mine’, the rambunctious saga of a Welshman inheriting Swansea. Even the pre-Dr Who drama ‘Casanova’ starring David Tennant, which performed well for BBC3, went by largely unnoticed on its BBC1 transmission shortly afterwards.

This is the stuff that makes ‘T is For Television’ so fascinating and so revelatory. It’s not a back-slapping celebration of huge success – it’s a warts and all look at some TV shows which, whilst not all massive audience successes, became landmarksin their medium and stepping stones in a career which has, despite itself, defined the idea of the British TV writer in the 21st century. The rollercoaster which has been Davies’s career, the shows which were and never were (the QAF spin-off ‘Misfits’., the Celador-backed film about the ‘Who Want To Be A Millionaire’ Major Ingram fiasco which would have been made if not for Davies’s commitment Dr Who) is explored in glorious details and readers will find much amusement in Davies’s reuse of both names (Tyler, Mott, Rose, Harkness – names which appear again and again in his stories) and ideas (a storyline reminiscent of season one Dr Who story ‘The Long Game’ was submitted to the classic series production crew way back in 1988) although, ironically, the sections devoted to Dr Who and Torchwood (the latter coming in for some criticism due to its uneven tone) are the least interesting parts of the book because, by now, we’re all so familiar with Dr Who’s success story and how the whole phenomenon was kick-started again. The book does, though, refer to the troubled first production block of Dr Who in 2004 and questions the received wisdom that Christophoer Ecclesotn was only ever signed to play the part for one series. We’ll probably never really know…

‘T is For Television’ may not be the most attractive book on your shelf should you chose to purchase it (and if you’re interested in good TV and how it’s written you really should) and there are a couple of howlers which could have been corrected with another run through the proof-reading process (Amanda Redman in Peter Davison’s ‘At Home With the Braithwaites’ and not Amanda Holden, for one) but it’s the ideal companion piece to ‘The Writer’s Tale’ and, despite its dry, rather humourless tone, is thoroughly absorbing and utterly compelling. Very highly recommended Stuff, in fact!