Kids These Days – What They Watch Part 1

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One for the kiddies today, and one for mums and dads and weirdos who enjoy children’s programming. I’m going to split this into a few different parts mostly divided by channel. Many channels now offer similar shows for kids, and several shows jump between channels so while some of the shows I’m covering may be exclusive to a particular channel, quite a few of them do hop around a bit. Not that any of that matters of course, it’s just providing me with a loose format to write within.

In my day (and I’m sure that regardless of the age of anyone reading this you will say the same for your own generation) TV for kids was at its pinnacle. I grew up in the mid-late 80s to mid 90s, and therefore had the likes of He-Man, Turtles, Transformers, Thundercats, Hey Arnold, Jumanji and countless others in their original form. While my girls are still at the age to enjoy the even younger oriented shows, they are beginning to get into more character and story driven shows.

In these posts I’m going to briefly cover a variety of the shows they have been watching regularly – some of which they stopped watching a while back, and some which they have only recently picked up.If you have young children then you should be familiar with some of these, if not then maybe you’ll get some insight into how programming has changed since you were a cub. That being said, this post will mainly focus on Cbeebies.

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Launched in 2002, Cbeebies has a tonne of original programming aimed at 0-8 year olds and as it is part of the BBC we don’t get commercials interrupting and corrupting us. Instead, between shows we get little skits and stories and songs by a variety of the presenters. Many of the presents will be known to British people for appearing on other shows, and it is a good format for some of these presenters to create their own shows. As you would expect, there is a lot of smiling and light-hearted joking as well as all the playful educational stuff. One thing which is notable too about the channel, is how it changes with the Seasons – each Christmas they put on a pantomime, along with other festive shows, while during the other Seasons there are one-off episodes and targeted programming, songs etc. My eldest was glued to it for the first three years of her life, before she discovered other channels. My youngest therefore does not get as much exposure to it. It really is a great channel though, and plenty of the shows are interesting and fun for kids and adults alike. As there are so many shows on Cbeebies which my girls have watched, I’ll split this post into two parts – today’s focusing on animation. Alphabetical order, ahoy!

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3rd And Bird

What’s It All About (Alfie): Short 10 minute episodes featuring a variety of feathered friends overcoming basic problems through social interaction. Most episodes had a song or musical interlude.

Good For Kids: Definitely one for younger kids, pre-school age. My girls only occasionally watched this and I don’t remember them showing much interest. Nice social lessons, cute artwork.

Good For Adults: I don’t imagine there is anything here of value for adults, though I quite enjoyed it – the songs were always decent and the short running time meant it didn’t become annoying.

64 Zoo Lane

What’s It All About (Alfie): A girl who lives beside a zoo and chats with the animals who tell her a different story every night.

Good For Kids: It features stories with morals and a wide variety of bright and lively animal characters – the stories themselves are moral based but not moral heavy – they will entertain primarily, with an overall lesson being something like ‘don’t boast’. The girls liked it but would get bored before the episode was finished.

Good For Adults:Good for teaching the value of a bedtime story, and the stories are fine, but it’s all very basic and child-oriented obviously. I think I’ve only seen 1 or 2 complete episodes.

Abadas

What’s It All About (Alfie): Three story book animal characters come to life and play with a boy, teaching him about new words and having adventures along the way. Each episode focuses on a search to learn about a new word, with one of the three animals taking the lead.

Good For Kids: The learning aspect is there, but the voice acting, animation, and music are all extremely enchanting.

Good For Adults: Another one that I quite enjoyed, mainly because the recurring song and intro song were good.

Alphablocks

What’s It All About (Alfie): A more zany, less plot driven version of Abadas, this teaches children about language by having animated letters holding hands to form new words. Various escapades ensue.

Good For Kids: The episodes are all very short – only a few minutes long, and the blocks themselves are funny enough to capture attention and aid learning.

Good For Adults: It’s another useful learning tool, and because episodes are short adutls shouldn’t get bored and can use the time to help spell with their kids. I quite liked the way the blocks shouted out the letters and words, and the amusing animation while holding hands.

Andy’s Wild/Dinosuar Adventures

What’s It All About (Alfie): Andy, one of the Cbeebies presenters has taken a job at the Natural History Museum/Safari park along with his friend and monkey Kip. Each episode they are given a job to do, but end up going on an adventure through time and/or space to learn about a particular animal.

Good For Kids: For older kids primarily, and those interested in animals. My girls again would watch pieces of this, but get bored before the end.

Good For Adults: I like the idea of this, but for whatever reason it just didn’t work for me. Andy is a decent presenter, and Kip is an okay sidekick, but the jokes and effects aren’t great.

Baby Jake

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What’s It All About (Alfie): The youngest member of a huge windmill-living family goes on daily adventures with an assorted of imaginative friends.

Good For Kids: Absolutely. There may not be much educational value in it, and I think some fools criticized it for having a lot of baby speech (goggy gi-ah etc), but it’s bright, funny, and is filled with ideas and charm. Although my girls don’t watch it anymore, it was one of the first and longest loved shows they found. We even have a Jake doll.

Good For Adults: Well, I enjoyed it. There isn’t much in each episode, but I loved the music and the funny animals who play with Jake, and the amusing merge of real time with animation. Again each episode is brief, so you don’t mind watching a few in a row – just be ready to have the tunes stuck in your head.

Bing

What’s It All About (Alfie): A CG show about a Bunny toddler and his pals who overcomes simple problems and fears with the help of their carer.

Good For Kids: This is quite a recent show and one of the few which my youngest loves more than my eldest. Of course it’s all bright and detailed and lovely, and the ‘problems’ encountered in each episode are the sorts of things kids would worry about – wetting the bed, sharing, noisy fireworks etc.

Good For Adults: Yeah, again I like this one, again each episode is under 10 minutes, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the charm and simplicity of it all. One of the main characters is voiced by Oscar Winner Mark Rylance too.

Well, that’s enough for now. Feel free to share your thoughts on any of the shows above – which shows your kids watch, what you used to watch etc.

Sh*t I Used To Watch – Neighbours – Bonus Post 2

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G’day mate, howz it goin’ ya flaming ga-lah! Wait, that’s Home And Away. Anyway, I’m back with another list of Neighbours characters and some recollections. I know you loved the last one, so please enjoy another!

Lou Carpenter – Tom Oliver – 1988 – 2016

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Significant Others: Cheryl Stark, Trixie Tucker, Kathy Carpenter, Lolly Allen, Lauren Carpenter, Nina Tucker, Paige Smith, Harold Bishop, Madge Bishop – basically everyone.

Lou Carpenter is now the soap’s longest serving character and Oliver the longest serving actor. Appearing briefly in 1988, he returned as a regular in the early 90s and immediately became a hit with viewers, mainly down to his womanizing ways, his banter with Jelly Belly Bishop, and that laugh. As you would expect, Lou has had his fair share of tragedy and interesting storylines – most notable being him becoming the owner of Lou’s Place, getting it on with and then losing Cheryl after a car accident, and becoming a dad again at a mature age (sort of).  Of course he has had a number of other realtionships over the years, but it’s his backstory and on screen chemistry with Madge and Harold that I remember him most fondly for, the three growing old together, falling out with one another, and helping each other through tough times. Always ready to sneak a buck or two when the opportunity arises, Lou’s house has also seen any number of tenants and neighbours over the years. Lou is a legend on the street and the show, and though he is only a recurring character now every few months, it’s always a joy to see him.

Special Power: His laugh can both raise the dead and kill the living and immediately causes those who hear it to imitate without pause for the duration of the episode.

Where Are They Now:

Lou Carpenter and Kathy Carpenter renew their vows in Neighbours

Still on Ramsey Street, and recently got (re) married to Kathy. Expect guest appearances every so often.

Taj Coppin – Jamie Robbie Reyne – 2002 -2004

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Significant Others: Tahnee Coppin. Jack Scully. Nina Tucker. Libby Kennedy.

I could have done without including Taj because I never really liked him, at least at the time. I think this was more bias on my part because he was getting it on with my beloved Libby Kennedy and was a bit of a knob. Still, he was involved in some decent storylines with some of my favourite characters so I’ll include him here, namely his relationships with Nina and Libby.

Special Power: If he lived in Royston Vasey he would most certainly work in the local shop for local people.

Where Are They Now:

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As a minor character I doubt he has been mentioned much since leaving. After cheating on some film school exam he nevertheless got a job in the film industry and left the town. Jamie Robbie Reyne has released a number of albums since leaving the show, and while they don’t appear to have been very successful he has toured with my (other) beloved The Bangles so plus marks there.

Helen Daniels – Anne Haddy – 1985 – 1997

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Significant Others: The Robinsons, The Martins, The Bishops  – basically everyone who lived on the street in the first 15 years of the show.

One of the original and longest running characters on the show, Anne Haddy’s Helen Daniels is another legend. She was the unofficial matriarch of Neighbours, offering advice, taking in strays, and always willing to lend a hand in stark contrast to the more typical busy-boddy or nosy archetypes. She is one of the few characters whose death received the famous ‘sad Neighbours theme’ and she was a great loss to the characters and the show as a whole. Helen of course had plenty of her own juicy storylines from marrying or getting involved with dodgy types, to being kidnapped but most remember her as being the one person anyone could go to for help – everyone wanted a granny like Helen. Everyone remembers her death, surrounded by her family, in her own home, while watching a video of Scott and Charlene’s wedding.

Special Power: Curing any malaise.

Where Are They Now:

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Her death left a gap which has never really been filled. Anne Haddy was forced to leave due to real life ill health and died a couple of years later – she was so popular that her death was announced after the airing of that day’s Neighbours episode.

Mark Gottlieb – Bruce Samazan – 1993 – 1995

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Significant Others: Serendipity Gottlieb, Stephen Gottlieb, Annalise Hartman, Gaby Willis

Mark was just such a likeable chap, helped by Samazan’s cheeky performance. Mark was a typical good guy, though always came across as a little awkward which made his heartthrob tendencies all the more amusing. I was pretty pissed when the character turned to God and became completely different, even ditching Annalise on their wedding day to become a priest instead. After a few weeks or months of that nonsense he regained his senses and went back to normal, but by that point the damage was done and he left the show after a few months of reconciliations.

Where Are They Now:

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It always seemed like Mark and Annalise would get together finally, but it never happened. Mark left the street after getting a job as a TV chef and presumably that is where he remains – as usual I’ve no idea if he has been referenced again in the years since. Samazan remains the only actor to have appeared in all three of the major Ozzy soaps – EStreet and Home And Away along with Neighbours. He quit acting in 2000 and apparently became some sort of Sales Consultant for Real Estate firms.

Serendipity Gottlieb – Raelee Hill – 1994 – 1995

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Significant Others: The Gottliebs, Luke Handley.

Pretty much the opposite to Mark with regards to how I felt about the character – I never liked her and found pretty much everything about her irritating. But if I include Mark I may as well throw her in too. She started off as a bit of a hippy, then became a business woman, then moves to Japan.

Special Power: Attracts fists.

Where Are They Now:

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Maybe still in Japan, maybe back in Oz, no idea. Naturally, we all know Raelee Hill for starring as Sikozu in the last couple of seasons of Farscape.

Let us know in the comments what you think of any of the characters above and share your favourite Neighbours moments!

Sh*T I Used To Watch – Neighbours Bonus Post

Hello, hi, and hello. As you may have or did not see in my previous Neighbours post, I mentioned that I was going to abuse you all with a few bonus posts on my recollections of the show. The response to this of overwhelmingly non-existent, so here you are! As the folks on Ramsey Street are on their festive break, hopefully this will tide you over until the return in January. Here are a few of my favourite characters who have appeared in the show and some of their most memorable antics.

Rick Alessi – Dan Falzon – 1992 – 1995

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Significant Others: Benito, Cathy, Marco, Christina, Caroline (the large Alessi family), Andrew Robinson, Danni Stark, Debbie Martin, Cody Willis.

Most people remember ‘The Twins’ – Caroline and Christina – some of Paul Robinson’s early conquests, but I wasn’t overly fond of them even though they were already established before cousin Rick arrived. No-one remembers Rick’s brother or parents. Within a year, Rick was the only Alessi left on the show, a troublesome heartthrob always getting into scrapes with his buddies. He has various relationships and flings in his time on the show, mainly with ‘Mad Debbie Martin’ and ‘Maybe My Cousin Cody Willis’. Rick has a particularly turbulent time in Erinsborough, before leaving for Darwin. I always enjoyed Rick’s relationship with Lou Carpenter and how he got on with Cody, breaking up with her before she was shot and killed – it would have been nice to see him come back for Cody’s funeral but at least he did leave a message for her memorial.

Special Power: Rick’s floppy hair took at least six hours a day to clean and was known to make panties drop at fifty paces.

Where Are They Now:

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I’m not aware of Rick returning to the show at any point and I can’t think of any character mentioning him in years. Like so many of the younger performers on Neighbours over the years, Falzon has seemingly now retired from acting. He dabbled with music over the years, but is currently a paramedic and eco-warrior. He did appear in Gamesmaster, so that’s a bonus.

Sarah Beaumont – Nicola Charles – 1996 – 2016

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Significant Others: Karl Kennedy, Bess O’Brien, Catherine O’Brien, Peter Hannay, Angus Beaumont, Antigone Beaumont

No discussion of Neighbours would be complete without mention of Sarah – the original home-wrecking hussy. Sarah arrived on Ramsey Street to consideration male attention – basically everyone was infatuated with her, including Toadie. She eventually works in Karl’s surgery where she becomes close with everyone’s favourite doctor. Thus one of the soap’s most famous affairs started, devastating every character who was involved. It was great. She also had a dog called Bob, continuing the show’s long tradition with cute pets. Sarah has left and returned several times in the show, most recently returning to announce that she is dying of cancer.

Special Power: Breasts.

Where Are They Now:

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Sarah has appeared sporadically either in person or by name on the show this year, and her tearaway son Angus became a recurring character, moving in with Karl and Susan. Charles was super popular in lads mags in the 90s, appearing on FHM’s sexiest list a couple of times, but she hasn’t appeared in anything else of significance.

Beth Brennan – Natalie Imbruglia – 1992 – 1994

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Significant Others: Brad Willis, Ned Willis, Lauren Carpenter, Lucy Robinson, Philip Martin, Wayne Duncan.

It may not be obvious if you’re a regular here, but I love Natalie Imbruglia. She was probably my first crush on the show but I don’t remember much now about her time. Imbruglia though is one of the best pop peeps of all time though, and White Lillies Island is one of the best albums ever. Her other albums are pretty great too, as well as her B-Sides. Seriously, check her out. But that’s not what we’re here for. Beth joined the show as a bit of an innocent country girl who was also practical and hard-working. She is most notable for her on again off again relationship with Brad – Beth leaves him at the altar on their (first) wedding day after she finds out about his affair with Lauren, though they later marry for reals before leaving the show together.

Special Power: Can take apart and re-assemble an M-16 in 17 seconds.

Where are They Now:

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Her and Brad divorced for reals. She gave birth to tearaway son Ned, who is currently on the show, but Imbruglia has said she has no interest in returning to the show. There’s always a chance someone else could pick it up. Imbruglia has of course gone on to sell millions of records, do lots of modeling stuff, and appear in decent movies like Johnny English and Closed For Winter.

Carmella Cammeniti – Natalie Blair – 2003 – 2011

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Significant Others: Rocco, Lucia, Rosario, Rosetta, Chloe, Raimondo and a bunch of other Cammenitis, Marco Silvani, Oliver Barnes, Connor O’Neill.

Of all the characters I would have been most interested in keeping up with after I stopped watching Neighbours, Carmella would be near the top. She was always a bit part character when I was watching at my peak, and always had interesting and bizarre storylines. The daughter of Rocco, some sort of Australian Mafia type, she first began a relationship with our very own Connor which of course Rocco did not approve of. This would be an on and off thing while until she went into hiding as a Nun. Later stories involved a singing career, selling a baby, and later various relationships, drug addiction, becoming a mum, and being haunted by her dead husband – most of these last ones I was not around to see. Blair was always incredibly hot and always gave great performances, though maybe this was heightened when up against the acting ‘talents’ of Patrick Harvey.

Special Power: Anytime anyone paints a picture of her, it looks like Jessica Rabbit.

Where Are They Now

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She left the show in 2008, briefly returning for a few episodes with her happy family in 2011. I have no idea if she has been mentioned since. Natalie Blair married her Neighbours co-star David Hoflin (Oliver Barnes) and has appeared in a few minor movies and series.

Rocco Cammeniti – Robert Forza – 2003 – 2007

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Significant Others: The Cammeniti family, Sindi Watts, Connor O’Neil, Toadie, Stuart Parker.

Rocco was introduced as a scary Godfather type, but also sort of looked like a cuddly teddie bear. He’s clearly a scumbag as he was having an affair with Sindi, eventually deciding to ditch his wife for her. When Sindi sets her sights on Toadie, Rocco gets angry and bad things happen. All the while he is jealous and protective of any male attention towards any of his family, usually in the form of Connor. He later seemingly becomes reformed but is arrested due to his past crimes and sent to prison. Rocco always brought a fun new dimension to the show and was a memorable and funny recurring villain.

Special Power: If you shave his beard, nothing happens; you can keep shaving forever and the hair instantly replenishes itself.

Where Are They Now:

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Presumably still in prison. Forza previously played two different characters in Neighbours, only for a few episodes though. He only appeared as Rocco in 28 episodes, which must make him one of the most impactful characters for such a small number of appearances. He’s another who has appeared in minor shows and movies, but he was Prisoner Cell Block H, because of course he was.

Stay tuned for another riveting trip down Ramsey Street next time, while we eagerly await the show’s return in the new year!

Sh*t I Used To Watch/Sh*t I Watch Special – Neighbours

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Greetings, Glancers! Today I begin a new niche sub series of the Sh*t I Watch posts. Recently as I have been writing other posts in the series and remembering all the other shows I used to watch, I began thinking more and more about Neighbours. I have a huge list of old and current shows which I just from at random when writing the next post in the series, and Neighbours is one of those. I added it thinking that it would be a weird one to write about due to its sheer size. One night I was arsing about on Youtube and I happened to see the 30th Anniversary of the show was coming up, so I began watching a few promo clips. This led to me watching some old promo clips and fan made videos and the more I watched it the more I realized I missed it. As the days passed I kept watching more clips and the waves of nostalgia and fondness and sadness were overwhelming – I’ve never been a huge soap fan, but I was a massive Neighbours fan for quite a few years. In fact, I wouldn’t be overstating things if I said that Neighbours has been one of the most important and most watched shows in my life.

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Don’t worry, you’re still my number 1

You see, when you watch a soap, when you properly dedicate yourself to it, you become part of an extended family. You spend time almost every day of the week with the characters on screen – you go through their ups and downs and by extension it feels like they are with you as you grow up and deal with the good shit and the bad. It was a difficult but necessary separation when I began moving away from Neighbours. I can’t remember precisely when it was, but I had met my future wife and moved in with her. I was working and had less time to myself, and was rarely home in time to watch the show. I estimate that this started in the middle and 2nd half of 2007 and by the same point in 2008 I had all but stopped watching. Considering I had been watching it from the beginning (though much of this as a toddler and young kid with little memory of the early episodes), that was already a 20 plus year relationship. The separation was made easier by the fact that around this time the soap was going through many changes – a lot of my favourite characters had left and many new ones had joined who I simply didn’t connect with. I would watch episodes and forget who they were and in the end stopped caring about the show. Over the next few years I would only watch a handful of episodes or snippets.

I’ve never been a huge fan, as I’ve said, but soaps are a staple for British Television – there was simply no getting away from them. Eastenders and Coronation Street are the big two from the UK, with Emmerdale eagerly hanging on and Hollyoaks doing it for the kids. I hear there is some show called Doctors these days too. As much as I watched Eastenders and Coronation Street, it was always Neighbours which I needed to see – it was simply sweeter, more quirky and light-hearted and funnier than the others. Watching Eastenders is like a slow seductive suicide while Coronation Street doesn’t have the emotional weight I need. I mean, it does, but it has too much of the old soap cliches – everyone has had an affair with everyone else. Neighbours doesn’t escape this, but it’s much softer and when the emotional moments come they hit all the more heavily. It’s also exotic, getting away from the stinking ever grey and brown streets of Britain. Oh yeah, for those wondering, I never could get in to Home And Away – I did try.

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Take your tears somewhere else….Alf

But what the hell am I talking about? Neighbours is a long-running Australian soap opera created by Reg Watson. It started in 1985, has over 7000 episodes, and has launched the careers of many famous peeps – Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan? Guy Pearce and Natalie Imbruglia? Margot Robbie and Holly Valance? Liam and Chris Hemsworth? Russel Crowe? Them and many others got their start or appeared in the show and the show has been as much a hit in the UK as it has been in Oz. It has had its fair share of weddings, funerals, births and break-ups, and other assorted weirdness. It’s great, it’s crap, but mostly it’s mine… again.

Full disclosure – as of 2016 I am a regular Neighbours viewer again. After all the watching of promos and hearing some rumours of one particular ex-character making a return I thought I would dive in again. As you would expect with re-connecting with old family and friends after years apart there were some nerves and awkwardness. It took a few episodes, weeks, storylines before I was up to speed with who everyone was and how the related to the characters I already knew. The atmosphere and tone and spark is all still there, helped by the fact that there are still plenty of familiar faces – Karl, Susan, Toadie, Paul, Steph, Lou to name a few. One of the best moments for me was in a recent episode where a 2 second – literally 2 seconds – snippet of an old song they used to play regularly was played during an embarrassing moment. The song is called Sea Of Love – click that link and be prepared for nostalgic tickles if you watched the show in late 90s – early 2000s. I’m just waiting for them to play One Good Reason again – that would be sweet.

Music is one of many triggers the show uses to keep audiences involved – the show knows its audience and knows that many viewers are long-standing, yet for the longest time the show has catered towards a younger audience, even though it crosses generations. The key to this is that it focuses on the families on one street – Ramsey Street, and that several generations of the same families have been appearing since day 1. When it first started the main players were the Ramseys, the Robinsons, and the Clarkes – over time newer families were introduced – Kennedy, Willis, Bishop, Daniels, Canning Rebecchi, Scully, Mangel etc etc. We get invested – when someone leaves we miss them, when someone does we mourn them, and when someone returns we tune in to see them again even if we had already left by that point.

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Ta-da!

In case you didn’t know (and depending on when I post this and when you read it) Dee Bliss has returned to Neighbours.  At the time of writing this, she is only a day away from making her return. I will say that I wasn’t the biggest Dee fan in the world – I mean I like her of course, but she is more significant in that she represents that time when I was most obsessed with the show. I’m holding out that we may get a few more cameos coming back due to her return. For those who don’t watch the show this will be (at least) the second time that a character who was presumably killed off will be making a return. It’s thirteen years since her death/disappearance, making her absence longer than the infamous Harold Bishop vanishing act. Over the next few posts I’m going to indulge in more nostalgia by going over a few (a lot) of my favourite characters and sharing some of my favourite moments. I hope you’ll join me, and I hope you’ll watch the show. I mean, I know you won’t – on either account – but it would be nice if you did. I’ll be your best friend?

Let us know in the comments if you watch/watched Neighbours and what you think of Dee’s return. What are your other favourite storylines and characters in the show?

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Sh*t I Used To Watch – Strike It Lucky/Strike It Rich

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DEE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DEDE-DE-DEEEE! Yes, it’s another hit show from the Golden Age of British Game shows – a game show which has it all – big prizes! Silly prizes! An entertaining presenter, catchphrases, chit chat with contestants, questions, answers, and an interesting and engaging premise. Strike It Lucky (which then became Strike It Rich) was a big hit with me, my family enjoyed it, and as far as I am aware it was a big success with audiences around the country. Why did I love it so, though? Read on…

The show was created in the US in 1986 as Strike It Rich – the main difference from the UK version being that the US featured two teams, one of which was a returning champion while in the UK there were three teams who only got one stab at the pie. From what I can tell, the show wasn’t a hit in the States, but with Barrymore as host in the UK, the show lasted for thirteen years and is still shown in syndication, as well as a few Special episodes and assorted Board Games and merchandise. Barrymore had already been a presenter, comedian, and actor on various sketch shows, but it was his slapstick energy and rapid-fire repartee with the contestants in Strike It Lucky which made him a megastar and the show an 18 Million viewer mega-hit. Most gameshows of the time featured comedians in presenting roles, but the interaction with the contestant, viewer, and audience was often more one-sided and always brief; a couple of hellos to the contestants, a couple of jokes to those watching, and you were on your way. With Barrymore, a quarter of the episode running time was him chatting and joking with the guests. As the series progressed, the guests would become more outspoken and entertaining in their own right without resorting to bizarre or outlandish types. There would usually be a young couple, a very elderly person, or someone with an interesting job to spark banter and jokes, and in most cases this opening was the best part of the episode. We as the viewer got an unusual insight into each contestant and you felt much closer to them and therefore hoped they would do well on the show – something which I don’t think any other game show has come close to achieving. Pointless comes close but in a less anarchic fashion, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire had something similar by virtue of the one on one format, and Deal Or No Deal was just shit.

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It’s true; deal with it

I should say that I don’t have any real nostalgic connection to Strike It Lucky/Rich – unlike most of the other shows in this sh*t series of posts. It’s simply a great all round show that I always loved, that I enjoy watching re-runs of, and that now my kids even will watch. As mentioned, the main key to the success was Barrymore – his spark, energy, and interaction with the guests. But every good British gameshow needs a good catchphrase too. Barrymore of course has his own ‘Awight!?’ that he would shout at the audience at the start of each show, but the game had a couple of its own – one which is a statement which became a catchphrase, and the other a bizarre exchange with the crowd. ‘Top Middle, or Bottom’ is a question which Barrymore poses in the final round – when the contestant has to make their way from left to right across the board without striking out. There are three rows to choose from – top, middle, or bottom – as simple as games and catchphrases get really. The second catchphrase involves Barrymore asking the audience ‘what is a hotspot not’ and them replying ‘not a good spot’. In and of itself that doesn’t sound very catchy, and it doesn’t even make sense, but his delivery is spot on (pun pardon). What’s good about it is that the audience’s response is completely indecipherable. In fact, it wasn’t until the internet blew up that I was actually able to Ask Jeeves what it was they were actually saying. For years I’d assumed their answer was ‘Prizes’.

So, the game involves six contestants in three pairs.  The first half of the game is a race across the board – three contestants walk across the board, three answer questions to win the chance to move forward two, three, or four places. Barrymore tells the contestant the ‘genre’ of the question, and the contestant decides if they want two, three, or four questions – if they get one wrong the question moves to the next contestant. The questions are multiple choice and might be something like ‘Famous Toms’ where the answers are Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Tom Jones etc, you get the idea. Once the questions have been answered, the contestant’s partner moves across the board one step at a time, hitting a button. When they hit the button they either get a prize or a Hot Spot. What is a hot spot not? Prizes. Not a good spot either. Basically if they land on a Hot Spot, their turn is over, so even if they answered four questions and get to walk forward four spaces, if they hit a hot spot on their first space, it’s the end of their turn. If it’s not a Hot Spot, they win a prize. Sometimes it’s a small cash prize, often it’s something humourous related to the contestant – if it’s an elderly couple, the prize might be a free Pole Dancing lesson for example. More Barrymore banter. There’s another level of strategy and gambling here – the contestant may answer four questions, but after moving forward two spaces they get two good prices such as a Weekend Holiday and a lump sum. If you hit a Hot Spot you lose your prices from that round, so do they risk moving on to get closer to the end, or bank their prizes and stay where they are?

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Eventually, a couple will reach the final step of the board where they are asked a final question to proceed to the final round – get it wrong and another couple may pip you to the post, get it right and the other two couples are out. This leads to the second half of the show, which I always found the less interesting. The winning couple selects which top prize they want to go for – three choices of cash. The higher the cash prize, the more difficult the gameboard is. Basically the team has to get across the same board, choosing top, middle, or bottom. There are three outcomes of each choice  – a Hot Spot – meaning they lose one life, a tick – meaning they move forward one space, or a question. Get the question right – move forward, get it wrong – Hot Spot. With the highest cash prize you get two lives, the middle one – three lives, the lowest cash prize – four lives. It’s tense stuff and the crowd always got into it – exciting the closer the team got to the end, but it just didn’t have the humour and fun of the first half.

I think Strike It Lucky could still work today, as a format. The problem when people try to resurrect classic gameshows it that they end up being self-knowing in an awkward and self-congratulatory manner. Just bring it back and get on with it. Barrymore has had his problems with the media and the public since his 90s heyday, but feck it – make him the host again, Awight!?

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Let us know in the comments if you used to watch Strike It Lucky or if you are more familiar with the US version.

Sh*t I Used To Watch – The League Of Gentlemen

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The early to mid-nineties was a glorious time for British TV comedy, but by the time the decade was coming to a close many of those shows were at an end and several new comedians were making their presence known, welcome or otherwise. I can’t remember how or where I first heard about The League Of Gentlemen – whether it was advertised beforehand, but regardless I was there on the first day it was shown on BBC 2. And mah gawd how I laughed. For many years since, I proclaimed the pilot episode as the single greatest pilot episode of any comedy show I had ever seen. And it only got better. Running for three Seasons and having one special Christmas episode and one movie, The League Of Gentlemen was based off a radio show, features three men playing multiple roles, and is obviously one of the best shows to ever grace the small screen.

The League Of Gentlemen are Mark Gatiss (Game Of Thrones), Steve Pemberton (Benidorm), Reece Sheersmith (A Field In England), and Jeremy Dyson, forming when they were in Theatre school together. Fast forward a few years and their show made it to television – a low budget mixture of horror and comedy, movie and TV references, sketch show and sitcom, packed with memorable characters, quotes, and moments – many of which I’m still amazed were allowed past the censors. Each of the three series deals with the various inhabitants of a fictional grim Northern England town called Royston Vasey, with each series a loose continuation of what has gone before and dealing with the aftermath of such things. Series 1 follows an outsider called Benjamin who decides to visit his aunt and uncle in Royston Vasey, an event which both triggers and symbolizes the central theme of the series – staying local, and keeping outsiders out. Series 2 deals with the town being infected by a horrific disease, while Series 3 takes a different spin, dealing with a different group of characters in each episode within the same 24 hour period and how they all tie together to a car crash. Meanwhile, the Christmas episode is an anthology horror featuring three blood-curdling tales involving many of your favourite characters.

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It’s difficult to explain the show’s charm to others without giving too much away – if you are a fan of horror or very dark comedy, then you will absolutely love this. There is a massive cast of zany, bizarre, ugly, and yet lovable characters. Many of these are not too subtle variations on people the actors and writers met in real life and who you have likely encountered, while some are nightmarish creations which can only be a pastiche of horror villains and WTF dreams. We have the angry, violent, middle-aged Pauline – a restart officer for ‘dole scum’, we have the sinister Butcher Hilary Briss, we have Tubbs and Edward, the pig-nosed, murderous weirdos who run The Local Shop and enjoy hunting and killing anyone who strays into the village, Barbara the taxi driver in the middle of a sex change, vet Doctor Chinnery who accidentally kills and maims any animal he comes into contact with, Rev. Bernice the local atheist Vicar, Herr Lipp the German Pedophile, Papa Lazarou the Circus ringmaster who steals wives for his Circus, and many many many more. There are close to 100 characters and most of them are gold – even if they only appear in one scene, you can be sure they will have some hilarious one-liner or joke.

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The dialogue in the show is fantastic and quotable from the popular ‘Hello, Dave’ to the more obscure ‘We didn’t burn him!’, everyone gets something memorable to say. In the grand tradition of sketch shows, the characters live and die by their catchphrases and this show has so many it would be ludicrous to try to list them. When the show first aired in 1999, indeed when the first episode aired, I was already quoting the dialogue. There was only one other guy in school who I knew watched from the start and we were both entirely smitten. Others caught up quickly, but it has taken until recent years for the show to be recognised as a cult classic. Never a day passes without some ad for a t-shirt website displaying a shirt with a quote from the show on my Facebook. But it is much more than simple catchphrases. The narratives which weave through each episode are expertly handled, and the show is twisting and turning and surprising, packed with scares, tension, and laugh out loud moments – hell there is even some pathos in there. Again, for my predominantly US based readers I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, but if anything I’ve said so far has intrigued you, then find and watch the show now. I’ve no idea if the show made it over there or if it is known at all outside of the UK, but I think enough of the humour is universal that anyone could enjoy it. It’s hardly a surprise that the writers have gone on to work on, star in, and help create some of TV’s most popular shows – Dr Who, Sherlock, Game Of Thrones, Shaun Of The Dead, Benidorm, etc.

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Seasons 1 and 2, and the Christmas episode are some of my favourite television ever, and I was sorely disappointed by Season 3. In fact, I’ve only watched it once compared to the multiple viewings of the others. Season 3 lost much of the sketch based action and instead became a more detailed character piece, more often than not dealing with characters from the previous seasons that weren’t as interesting to me, changing the characters too much so that they felt like different people, and introducing several new people who I didn’t find funny or engaging. However, I think the initial shock put me off and I need to go back and watch again. It would be like watching a Season 5 episode of The Simpsons versus a Season 20 – one is funny and memorable and brilliant, while the other is just some show written by some guy. I’m probably being too harsh so I do intend to watch it again. Likewise, the movie wasn’t great – I saw it in the cinema as soon as it was released, and while there are laughs it simply didn’t translate well to the big screen. That has always been strange to me as a movie based on those characters seems like it could and should have been the easiest thing in the world to do, especially given the cast’s affinity for movies. I must go back and watch it too.

When I planned this post in my head, I was laughing about all the things I could write and talk about, but then I thought that I would rather leave it up to you to decide if you’d like to watch it, while I go and hunt down my DVDs (and VHS) of the series. For those of you who have seen it, feel free to share your favourite moments and quotes in the comments section – I have too many to count, from Pam Doove’s audition, to the ‘Bummers are deaf’ discussion, to the gassy dog, to anything with Papa Lazarou, and so on, and so on…

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Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Sorceror’s Apprentice

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Long before Harry Potter, but long after Grottbags, there was another Sorcerer’s Apprentice – young Dean, star of today’s episode of AYAOTD. We deal with magic and obsession, a well worn trope in fiction seen in everything from the seductive nature of The Dark Side Of The Force, to the addictive calamity witnessed in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Lets see what Amazon’s blurb has to say about this one:

Dean has trouble at school – especially with chemistry. His best friend, Alix, seems to be the only one who understands him. One day an archaeologist visits the class and brings along a bewitching snake which entrances Dean. Soon thereafter Alix begins to notice changes in his personality.

We’re in familiar territory as the episode opens with the group heading to their usual spot. On the way though they find a grave where two of our more ethnic members play a prank. Betty-Anne is telling tonight’s story, one which seems to involve skulls, or headless corpses, or skeletons or something, given the way she’s fondling that bone between her hands. We go back to 1966, some museum-looking school where a time travelling kid (they’re wearing 90s clothes) drops a bucket (?) into a puddle (?). I don’t know, it’s not very clear. We flash forward to Present Day and meet Dean, an unusually attractive young chap who doesn’t appear to be popular and isn’t great at school work, as explained by the pitbull teacher’s battleaxe face and grumpy one-liners. I had my fair share of witches in school – what is it about a career in education that can drain all the moisture from one’s face and replace it with a medicine ball-shaped Gorgon texture? Dean sort of looks like a cross between River Phoenix and Michael Pitt.

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We then meet Alix (America) who, for some reason happens to be Dean’s friend. Likewise I also had girls who were, for the same ‘some reason’, my friends. I really feel like today’s story is speaking to me. Or maybe I’m too lazy to think of another angle to write from today. What the hell pictures did she have in her locker? It appears to be – A random Cosby; a saturated black and white still of a woman terrified beneath a tree; two cartoon skiers chasing a heart down the slope of Mount Fuji; the face of the bad guy from Ghostbusters II cut out and placed on the body of stylish 90s business women. That’s quite a collection. We never had lockers in my school, just schoolbags packed with everything you needed for the day, and that was usually dumped in a corner once you got in. Something else we rarely had in school was special guests – in this episode a redhead archaeologist comes to speak in Dean and Alix’s class, bringing with her a wide array of artifacts. One such artifact is a giant cobra sceptre which once belonged to a reputedly evil sorcerer – perhaps he who wields the sceptre will absorb the sorcerer’s power.

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Euphemisms

This has so far reminded me an awful lot of an early Buffy episode, and that’s no bad thing. The school setting, the friendship, the weird teacher and the weird artifact – these are all things that pop up in Season 1 Buffy and while that Season is seen as the worst, I still have very fond memories of watching them for the first time as a 14 year old when they first made their way to BBC 2. Dean’s interest has been piqued and he speaks with the teacher and pokes at some of her toys. She speaks in ambiguous terms so we immediately ask ourselves if she is evil. Once Dean lifts the scepter, he becomes entranced and heads into the school basement (more Buffy nostalgia). Cut to the next scene and Dean has suddenly transformed into a Beat poet rebel, complete with turtle neck and attitude, mystifying his unnecessarily angry teacher, and upsetting Alix. Dean has basically become Xander in The Pack, with cool new friends and unfortunate decision making. At this point we’re almost halfway through the episode and nothing remotely scary has happened. It is however interesting and has a coherent vibe and good performances.

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As we’re halfway through this post, here is something else to hold your interest

 

There is one funny scene here as Dean speaks to the floating head of Goth, performing a resurrection ritual in what appears to be a trash can. Alix watches from about four feet away and Dean sends his acolytes after her.

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Not These Guys

For some reason Goth speaks with an English accent, and then for some reason Dean begins speaking in an English accent. And then for some reason, I begin laughing in a Jamaican accent. Goth isn’t a particularly imposing figure, and while there is a Palpatine/Vader dynamic going on, his face when he laughs resembles a worried and weeping Vinnie Jones.

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Alix decides, against all known codes of honour and wisdom, to ask a teacher for help, but the angry teacher is already under Goth’s power. This bit actually unnerved me a little, because when the teacher laughs, her front teeth almost look like they turn to fangs – a little like that moment with Bilbo in Fellowship Of The Ring. However, they are apparently her normal teeth. It feels like the closing moments as Alix is chased by the acolytes (one of whom may be the begotten offspring of Robert Smith), but there are still 10 minutes remaining.

We have just enough time to get more oddly framed shots of the Campside Weirdos as they discuss acid and Alix’s predicament. Alix is being taken by Robert Smith, Dean, and the rest to a swimming pool within the school which has inexplicably been left abandoned for 25 years. Dean speaks in an English accent again – is this just something Americans (and Canadians) do when they want to sound sinister? I know that we have a history of English villains in Hollywood films, but to me the generic English accent always sounds tame and wussy. My accent though – if an English person heard me shouting they’d likely vacate their bowels and hide under the nearest tarp. I’m sure the purpose of Dean’s accent is to show he is becoming more like Goth, but it still feels jarring and silly. Goth returns in a watered down Hellraiser vision. There is some terrible make-up and costume work on Goth, but Alix and the returned-to-normal Dean stop his rise by pouring chlorine into the pool. Why there is a vat of chlorine sitting open beside the pool is anyone’s guess. Presumably Dean brought it with him for the ritual, but why the hell would you bring the one thing which will stop your master from rising? Hugs and giggles ensue, I stretch my leg to crack my knee, and we get a quick ‘twist’ ending. Why can’t the teacher perform the ritual herself? Why does it have to be a kid? Why a specific kid?

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Euphemisms

I thought this was a pretty good, engaging episode, albeit light on scares or tension. Without the two good leads though, this may have felt light and flat. There is actually quite a few speaking parts in this episode, so lets have a look and see how much more speaking these peeps have done in their careers. Behold! Dean was in a previous episode – The Tale Of The Prom Queen. If you’ll remember from that post, I asked posed the dilemma ‘I wonder if he’ll look like a scumbag’ referring to his future appearance on the show. I’m pleased to solve that puzzle today by answering that yes, he does kind of look like a scumbag in this episode, but only when he’s acting like one. Elsewhere he gives a very good performance, accent aside. We’ve covered Matthew Mackay’s career before, so lets move on. Alix (Staci Smith) seems to only have one other credit to her name, a year before this episode in the splendidly named movie Prehistoric Bimbos In Armageddon City. 

Only one of the Acolytes is credited and I’ve no idea if it’s Robert Smith or one of the others – played by Chris Nash who has at least 1 Producer, 1 Director, and 1 Composer credit to his name. As an actor he has been around in movies, TV movies, and TV shows from the early 80s to the late 90s including Freddy’s Nightmares, Wraith, and Satisfaction. Many of these movies featured early appearances from Hollywood big hitters, but for whatever reason Nash has yet to reach those heights. I’m not even sure he was one of the acolytes – according to his age on IMDB, that would have made him 31 playing a young teenager. On the other age of the age scale is Goth, an ancient Egyptian or something, played by Stephen R Hart whose size and voice have ensured that has been a respected voice and screen actor since this episode – his first appearance. Since then, he has been in Silent Hill, The Mortal Instruments Series, and voices ‘ Canada’s daily opening rant’ which I can only assume means he stands atop of some Canadian landmark and shrieks a few words or paragraphs about politics, war, famine and other such topics. Finally, the two teachers – angry woman, played by Jane Gilchrist, and Dr. Oliver played by Emma Stevens. Stevens has appeared in lesser known movies and shows including The Audrey Hepburn Story and Beyond Borders, as well as voicing in the Assassin’s Creed series. Gilchrist has had a similar career, appears in a later AYAOTD episode, I’m Not There, and Big Wolf On Campus. 

There you have it, another episode in the bin. Next up we’ll be heading down to the arcade to stumble across sticky carpets and avoid the wizened old pre-divorcee wasting his hard earned quarters on Pacman in The Tale Of The Pinball Wizard. Sweet dreams!

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Let us know what you thought of this episode in the comments and for more reviews of AYAOTD, check here:

Irish Freaks          Freaks Next Door            Freak Boy                 Graveyard Lurkers

Bark Bark Goose           Little Old Lady       Little Old Girl          Laughing Freaks

Uber Freaks                    Grunties                  Eyes Painted In Ye?