11/22/63

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There was a period in the 80s and 90s when it seemed like everything Stephen King had ever written was being adapted for the big or small screen. Then we had a lull for around a decade or so as both his written and adapted material slowed a little. In recent years we have seen a resurgence – a thirst for more King material to watch, leading to remakes and new adaptations to the extent that it seems like rarely a month passes without a new release or announcement. 11/22/63 the novel is one of King’s most heralded recent works, a highly personal, highly relevant tale given the current political climate in the USA. It has all those good old King staples – a writer with romantic tendencies, childhood or nostalgia for the past, and just a hint of the supernatural. It’s a long and engaging read, detailing a few years in the life of a man who discovers a portal which can transport him back to the late 1950s. No matter how much time he spends there, only two minutes pass in the present. If he does something in the past it can change the future, but if he subsequently returns to the past all his changes get wiped – any time he goes through the portal, he always returns to the same point and place in time. With some narrative and character changes, the TV mini-series adaptation takes the same central idea and runs with it, creating an interesting, authentic, tense and sometimes tragic tale of one man’s decision to change the course of history.

James Franco stars as Jake Epping (a role he plays relatively straight), a teacher and writer who is recently divorced and drifting through life. When he visits his friend Al, he is shocked to see that Al suddenly looks incredibly sick. Al tells him that he has cancer and will be dead soon and tells Jake about the time-travelling portal in his cafe. This first episode is largely spent explaining how the portal works and in convincing Jake to travel back with a single goal – to prevent JFK from being assassinated – the belief being that the world would be a better place today had he survived. Al has failed in his attempts due to the onset of his cancer and his doubts over who killed JFK – Oswald, the FBI etc etc. On top of that, the past doesn’t want to be changed leading to certain supernatural or deadly events as time seeks to correct itself. By the time the second episode rolls around, Jake has taken on the mission in full spirit, though he has five years to kill before the day of the assassination comes around. During this time Jake must fit in – get a job, research everything he can about the people surrounding the assassination, and work out how to stop it.

There’s a definite nostalgic feeling in these episodes set in the past. I wasn’t around in the 50s or 60s, and I’m not American, and yet the wistful, seemingly carefree nature of those times shines though, albeit with a dark underbelly. The pacing, for such a sprawling tale, is just right and the changes made to the plot are fine (one of the biggest changes being the introduction of Bill Turncotte) – I certainly had no issues with them. If you haven’t read the book and have no interest in doing so, this won’t impact you although I would encourage everyone to read it as it is one of King’s best in recent years. Oswald is shown in a, I don’t want to say sympathetic light, but in a human light at least – a flawed man driven to make his own bad decisions – his wife Marina caught in the middle. The romantic side-plot of Jake and Sadie is rather sweet, but then I’ve always enjoyed these sort of relationships – as seen in other efforts like Back To The Future, Goodnight Sweetheart and a myriad of others. The cast are all in top form, credit going to Franco, George Mackay, Sarah Gadon, and Lucy Fry, and the various directors and writers all craft a relatable tale which begs that always prodding question – what would you do? With a running time over 6 hours it takes a certain commitment to watch, but if you like the premise or indeed the history or the surrounding conspiracies, then this will likely pull you in during the first episode and keep you locked in the past until the credits roll.

Let us know what you think of 11/22/63 in the comments!

Sh*t I Watch – Eurovision 2019

Greetings, Glancers! You probably don’t know this, but I kind of love The Eurovision Song Contest. Now you know. See you next time!

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No, I’m going to review the whole thing. I thought about doing this while watching it. Or live tweeting or something. Then I discarded both thoughts. Now that a month has passed then idea came back to me, and now that enough time has passed that no-one cares about it anymore, I can capitalize on the lack of interest like the shrewd business man/blog owner I am!

I’ve always loved Eurovision. In truth there’s not any good reason for me to like it, given that most of the music is shite and that it has gone from kind of camp to a flaming celebration of fabulousness. I just don’t care about any of that. I mean, I appreciate the spectacle, but the fact that it’s so self aware now that every single song has to be a spectacle or some sort of over the top feat of visual nonsense makes the spectacle pointless. All of that pisses me of because it’s now so generic, and all of the shouting and cheering and booing and prancing in the crowd annoys me too. Just make it about the music, bad as 80% of the songs may be.

I’ll admit that some of the changes to the ceremony and process over the years I haven’t minded. I don’t care that Australia now seems to be part of it. I wish they wouldn’t have all the preliminary heats and rounds before the finals because none of us care about that but it means that the judges and commentators all know about each and every song beforehand, taking away some of the surprise. In my mind it should be every country in Europe getting to perform one live song once – on the night – and be judged on that alone. I understand there needs to be some sort of qualifying criteria otherwise the whole thing would be six hours long. I even like the vote split now where we get the judges vote first, then the public vote after – it always causes wholesale changes in the results. What I don’t love is the year on year bias – the same neighbouring countries ALWAYS vote for each other meaning you can almost 100% of the time predict who will give the big points to who. Again, it degrades the music, which is what it should be about. Oh yeah, we don’t need the crappy inspirational videos between songs, we don’t need the twelve different presenters, and all of the other guff which pads out the running time. Play the songs, do the voting, announce the winner.

What about this year? Well, it was hosted yet again in Israel, which was always going to mean some delicious controversy given the country’s love of bombing children. Last years atrocious winner, Toy, by the equally atrocious Netta ensured the country got to host for the fourth time. That’s one thing you can almost always guarantee about Eurovision – the best song will never win and the winner will be some kitsch one-off bullshit. The last genuinely good winner of Eurovision was of course Sweden’s Euphoria. This year’s show was no different, but we’ll get to that.

First, lets talk about the extra performances – those not eligible for the show. All the buzz was that Madonna was going to perform. This seems like a match made in heaven – the camp nonsense and Madonna’s upbeat music go hand in hand with everything Madonna stands for. Unfortunately, her performance was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen. Madonna, I love you, but you just can’t sing live, not anymore. Or maybe you can, but not at Eurovision. A song as simple as Like A Prayer was butchered beyond repair and her new song was balls. To her credit, she got in some well placed jibes at the expense of Israel, at least that’s how they saw it, and it was clearly more of a call for peace and togetherness. Elsewhere, Iceland’s WTF entry Hatari, are a bunch of misguided youths who, it was anticipated, would cause trouble. Their performance went without incident, but later in the scoring section they unveiled Palestinian flags to resounding boos from the crowd. It was funny. It didn’t quite match the controversy of the idiot jumping on stage last year in the middle of the UK’s performance, but there’s always something.

Somehow matching the cringe levels of Madonna’s tuneless performance was her latest buddy – some guy called ‘Quavo’ whose talent begins at ends at the ability to give himself a ridiculous name. He was interviewed before the performance and showed the world that he’s 1 IQ point short of a potato. At least I think it was him – it was some guy involved in some way with Madonna. The interview was an abomination, with both he and the interviewer clearly having no clue how to behave or react, and with Quavo seemingly having no idea who Madonna even was, despite recording and performing with her. That’s one of the main reasons why Madonna’s music has been crap for decades – she’s surrounding herself with people beneath her.

We did get a nice moment when a bunch of previous winners came on stage to sing each other’s winning songs. It was a pity that most of those winning songs were among the worst the competition has to offer, but it all ended with them all singing Israel’s 1979 winning song Hallelujah. I also only realized afterwards that Gal Gadot had appeared, but given that I still haven’t seen Wonder Woman I didn’t recognise her at the time. Right, lets get onto the songs.

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Malta kicked things off. It’s always hilarious to me when artists from other Countries try to mimic what is popular in the UK and US, right down to the vocal style. The thing is, they always do it about five years too late. Malta’s Michela does exactly that with Chameleon – hitting every single box for what has made pop music bad in the last five or so years. Most annoyingly is the accented vocal style and that whole taking the beat away from the chorus thing. Distinctly average at best. Malta finished in 14th with 107 points.

Next up was Albania. I didn’t pay much attention to this one. Decent enough performance, not a lot to say about the song. Singer Jonida wore a silly outfit and earned 90 points to finish 17th. Czech Republic came whipping in next with an 80s New Wave style synth pop thing – it was fine, a pity it was all a bit uninspired and the performers smiled too much. Still, it was good enough to net them 157 points and 11th place. Germany’s Sisters with the song Sister which features a chorus with the repeated lyric of ‘sisters’ over and over again, I thought would do much better with its message of sisterhood and women looking out for each other. A nice enough song, it only managed 24 points and came 25th. And yet, it’s a hell of a lot better than their winning song from 2010 – Satellite by Lena.

Russia have somehow gone from most hated country in the competition (due to the Country’s politics, not the performers) to finishing third this year. It’s another strange case of the song being crap on the night. I was unsure how it was being scored so well until I listened to the song’s official video – studio version – and it’s much better than what we heard on the night. So clearly the judges and voters are voting on the studio versions of these songs and not the sole final live performance. That is so obvious to me now that it makes perfect sense. There’s no way anyone sees their final performance and gives it 370 points. Denmark’s Love Is Forever was one of the most twee and insipid moments of the night, a sweet little song near enough ruined by singer Leonora who follows in the footsteps of many others by singing in that embarrassing copycat accentuated UK style – it was awful when Lily Allen did it 10 years ago, and she was late to the party too.

I thought San Marino was in with a chance (not something you’d ever say about their football team amirite?) because Serhat’s Say Na Na Na was stupidly catchy – shame he was one of the night’s most boring performers and needed something else to spice things up. In the end, he only managed 77 points and landed on the 19th spot. North Macedonia was my pick for the win, based on my own personal preference. This time I thought I actually stood a chance of being right – usually I just pick my favourite song and it usually does badly, like Georgia’s 2010 entry Shine for example – great song, no hope of winning. This time, the message and the performance all ticked the typical Eurovision boxes and I thought that maybe it could genuinely win. Then the scores came in and it did exceptionally well with the judges. Then the idiot public vote happened, and nobody voted for it, leaving it with a total of 305 points for 7th place. Let this be a rule to you all, as if Brexit wasn’t clear enough – never let the public vote for anything. The newly named North Macedonia was a showcase for Tamara Todevska, and her explosive ballad Proud is one of the best in the competition’s history. Ostensibly a song for her daughter about pride, about not taking any shit, and about showing the world your individuality was delivered in a fiery, defiant way as a message for all women. It seems that mainly male homosexual voting public were more into ‘dirty dancing’, bald dudes, and whatever the hell that Italian shite was than stuff that actually matters. This is your real winner guys, go listen.

You never count out Sweden in this competition – they’re probably the most successful country when you tally everything up. It was pretty funny watching John Lundvik realise he wasn’t going to win, though the song itself was catchy pop R’n’B fare. Lundvik isn’t the greatest singer in the world, and the fact that he’s Chris Kamara’s twin didn’t help. They finished 5th – you can almost always guarantee a Top 10 finish for Sweden. Slovenia provided the most uncomfortable moment of the night and made me think I was watching a cheap knock-off of Let The Right One In set in a retreat for the famished. These two underfed ghosts stared unsmilingly at each other while the song simply sweat from their bodies, and I was genuinely concerned that one of them was going to eat the other. Unfortunate, as it’s actually a good song, but the performance completely took away from the song. The song would be much better if it was less digitized. Cyprus thankfully sexes things up again, just like last year, and the song is pretty generic Euro dance-pop which completely falls apart at the chorus with yet another stupid drop/change the beat thing. Change the chorus and you have a much better track. As it is, it finished 13th with 109 points.

I was bewildered when the scoring started and saw that the Netherlands kept getting the big points. Had I seen a different song from everyone else. Their song just seemed like yet another mid-contest filler with nothing to say and not a single memorable second. I had completely forgotten it and needed the constant on screen reminders to make me remember it. Even now when I’ve watched it back – it’s a little better on second viewing but I have no idea how this won or even finished in the top ten. Other winning songs have been worse, but even crap like last year’s winner you can understand people getting behind because it’s such a novelty thing. Eurovision winners tend to follow the business rules of a one-hit wonder – something that just drops at the right time and it weird enough and catchy enough to draw people in for a brief moment before looking back a few weeks later and wondering what the hell that was all about. Arcade by Duncan Lawrence doesn’t even reach that low bar – it’s just a nothing song that any self-respecting singer could write in their sleep before saying to themselves ‘well there’s no point in me recording that piece of crap’. I guess most self-respecting singers have less self-respect than me.

I jest, it’s not that bad of a song. It’s clearly a rip off of Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall, to the extent that if I was him I’d be getting my lawyers on the phone. An average ballad, the performance on the night wasn’t as good as the song itself and quite a few songs deserved to beat this to the top spot. Nevertheless, it was this year’s winner with 498 points.

Greece managed to produce a good song with a catchy hook, just a pity the singer Katerine Duska delivered it through her nose. My Eurovision group posting on Facebook at the time for this one reads simply ‘Greece Jess Glynn’. That about sums it up. Israel’s effort this year was light year’s ahead of last year’s winning monstrosity. The problem was that is was a simple heartfelt ballad with no backing trickery or spectacle. It was also funny because the singer – Kobi Marimi – looked exactly like a guy I used to work with. They finished 23rd with a poor 35 points. One of the better songs this year. Norway were clearly in with a shot with an exuberant performance let down by the bald guy’s warblings. If they’d replaced him with an actual singer, it could have been a much closer call. I know Norway was my Polish friend’s choice – we Facebook chat the contest every year – our response to Norway going pretty much like this – her – ‘Norway to win’,  me – ‘apart from baldy’, her – ‘especially baldy!’. Bald or not, Norway finished 6th with 331 points.

You have to pity the poor old UK. One of the most successful countries in the competition traditionally, for the last ten or twenty years they have been a laughing stock, propping up the bottom position on numerous occasions. It must be tough being the most hated nation, and while they don’t get booed like Russia always does, they almost always get ignored nowadays – no matter if it’s a no name like Michael Rice with a rubbish song, or a big name like Bonnie Tyler with a rubbish song. Even when they have a half decent song it gets dismissed. Though they haven’t had a really good song, or good Eurovision song in years. With the calibre of genuinely good writers we have and the calibre of people able to pen successfully pop crap, you’d think we would do a little better once in a while. As expected, UK finished dead last with a laughable 11 points.

The fact that Iceland’s anticipated Hitaria followed the UK made old Blighty look even more out of place. When a bunch of skinny kids who misunderstand everything which makes Goth music interesting parade around in costumes made from black masking tape make your song look crap, you know have a long way to go to get back into Eurovision’s graces. The song itself is like something Rammstein would have made when they were sixteen years old and had Simon Cowell as their mentor – pretty bad, yet bad enough to earn them the 10th spot and 232 points.

At the time, my only comment about Estonia was something along the lines of ‘this guy is too pretty to be real’. And it’s true. I’m half certain the unfortunately named Victor Crone is really some sort of CG creature – like a Weird Science but for women. The song is complete balls until the chorus, then the chorus blasts off and becomes one of the catchiest of the night. As pretty as he is, he’s a crap performer and that probably caused their eventual 20th finishing place. Zena from Belarus brought the porn to Euro- oh wait, she’s only 16. WTF. Anyway, her half naked spreading and gyrations looked to make 90% of the male audience reconsider their sexuality and return to the straight path. The childish, faux attitude of the performance was similar to when videogame companies used to put baseball caps on characters to make them look edy, dangerous, or cool. Pity, because it’s a pretty catchy song and one of the few which actually stands a chance of staying with you. It’s a shame then that it came 24th with only 31 points. Azerbaijan’s 8th spot finish is another complete mystery as it was a complete non-entity of a song. It did have robots though.

France’s entry is exactly the sort of thing Eurovision loves so it was perhaps surprising it did so badly – 16th and 105 points – but they only have themselves to blame when the song is more boring than going pillow shopping. Italy. This knob thought he had the whole thing one, so it was HILARIOUS to watch his face drop when it turned out he only finished second. Yes Mahmood, you entitled little prick, your song was balls, your performance was worse than a chav and his mates walking down an alley between council flats and grabbing their crotches. It’s a complete mystery to me how this wasn’t in the bottom five. Serbia deserved a much higher finish than 18th (89 points) with their churning ballad Kruna, by Nevena Bozovic, one of those choruses I wish I understood so I could sing along too. Switzerland look depressingly like they were in with a shot of winning throughout the voting, their irritating song She Got Me with one of those choruses you can’t help but hate but which you know the mindless will be singing for days.

For better or worse, Australia is now a mainstay at Eurovision, and this year their song and performance was one of the most memorable. The song was good, elevated by some catchy operatics, while the performance was heightened (literally) by the fact that singer Kate Miller-Heidke was attached to some sort of Mad Max style swaying mast which tossed her about the stage. She finished a respectable 9th, with 284 points. Finally Spain arrived courtesy of pretty boy Miki, a non-entity performer who makes Olly Murs seem charismatic, though the song was bouncy, fun pop. Closing the contest, they unsurprisingly finished in 22nd with 54 points.

When all was said and done we had our usual moments of controversy, our usual pedigree of bad music with the odd exception, the odd spot of humour and embarrassment, and a closer race than in most years. You can guarantee I’ll be back for more of the same next year where we can expect Sweden to finish in the Top 10, the UK to finish in the bottom five, and a whole bunch of fools to parade around in ridiculous costumes singing ill advised songs before vanishing from the face of the planet forever – Eurovision – don’t ever change.

What did you think of this year’s show and the contest in general? Let us know in the comments!

Sh*t I Watch – Wolf Creek Season 1 and 2

Greetings, Glancers! I know it feels like I keep saying this recently, but we’re back with another entry from one of my long-standing series. Wolf Creek was a film I liked to a certain extent when it was first released, though my opinion on it was probably soured by the horror community’s over abundant love for it. At the time it just felt like a perfectly watchable addition to the ‘trip gone wrong, oops here’s a psycho’ sub-genre. It didn’t bring anything new but the main character of Mick was refreshingly smug. With the sequel, Wolf Creek 2, it explained more of Mick’s character and presented another group of hapless travelers in Australia with a series of bloody endings. Both films were torture porn with a self-mocking smirk, a fun time but nothing out of the ordinary beyond a charismatic lead villain. My wife enjoyed them too, but since that time she has moved away from a lot of the horror stuff we used to watch. It’s almost like she was just putting up with them until I put a ring on it.

Jump forwards a few years and Greg McLean decided to return to the outback and good old Mick, not with a third movie, but with a small screen outing. Wolf Creek Season 1 is a spin off from the films, and while it does loosely mention events and characters from the series, it’s its own thing. You don’t need to have seen the films to see the series, and vice versa. Within the opening scenes of the pilot episode, you know pretty much all you need to know about Mick, and about the show, and while the series as a whole does try to fill in his backstory and possibly explain his murderous intentions, it is more simply a female driven, wonderfully no holds barred, revenge story.

We open with an All American family on some sort of camping trip in the outback. They seem like your typical family – a bit of arguing, but clearly nothing out of the ordinary – Mom, Dad, athletic underachieving daughter, and cute son. Enter John Jarratt’s infamous Mick, the sly killer always ready with a racist quip, and a variety of guns and blades. Mick has this was of being charming and dangerous at the same time – lulling his audience with his Oz ways but simultaneously making you wary. You know there’s something wrong with this guy, but you cant honestly believe it. It’s not a spoiler to say that, in the middle of sharing the family’s food for the evening, he snaps and kills them. Pleasingly for a TV show, there is no shying away from the violence – mid conversation he slams a knife into Daddy’s leg before opening up his throat (in front of wife and child, naturally), then as mummy and son hold hands he throws another knife straight through mummy’s face. Son tries to run, but gets a bullet in his spine. When he goes stalking after daughter Eve (singing as he goes), the brutality finally hits home. Before going further, let me just say that Lucy Fry is a fucking beast. Her performance here, and in the series as a whole, is deserving of all the nominations and plaudits, and if she doesn’t become a superstar in the future it will be a damning slight for the human race.

Without giving away too many other spoilers, the rest of Season 1 sees Lucy, in classic Hitchcock style, trying to track down Mick to kill him while at the same time avoiding the cops. She learns more of his history as she goes, there are numerous side-plots about the cop who has been working Mick’s case for years, various locals with their own criminal or heroic pasts, and Mick himself who quickly realises that someone is following him for a change, and tries to turn the tables. The first season is only six episodes long, but this feels right. It never reaches the point of feeling bloated or unnecessarily stretched, but the various interweaving stories in the end are side dressing for the main event. While we end up caring about some of the others involved, in the end all we want to see is Eve and Mick standing off. Eve shows herself to be quick-witted and resourceful, a horror heroine in the vein of Ripley, Sarah Conor, or Sydney, and she plays the long game instead of rushing in. Fry and Jarrett have great chemistry, even though she don’t appear together too often, and on their own each is addictive and entertaining.

Credit should go to the writers and directors for continually thinking up great one-liners or speeches for Mick to chew on, and for shooting Australia in all its gorgeous, barren beauty. You’ve probably heard me talk about my love for sunrises and sunsets and twilight in movies, and Season 1 and 2 smash this look and atmosphere head on. Both series are among the prettiest I’ve seen in recent years – all the more so because there is little or no CG or false trickery going on – what you see is what the actors saw and felt.

Season 2 then concerns a new group. It isn’t readily apparent at what point in the Wolf Creek timeline any of this takes place, but again it’s not overly important. In classic sequel tradition, we up the ante by increasing the cast numbers – think Aliens or The Hills Have Eyes 2. We follow a group of people from various countries and of various ages going on a coach trip. We have a German couple and their daughter, a Canadian couple trying to salvage their marriage, a couple of tourists suffering from unrequited love, a psychologist, an ex soldier, a gay couple, a party boy, a bus – whatever the bus equivalent of a train spotter is. Through the six episodes we get to know this group, love them or hate them, and watch them get picked off by you know who. Yes, thanks to an unintended insult at a roadside cafe, Mick is back – this time taking charge of the coach and everyone inside. If there’s one thing Mick hates, it’s foreigners, and after driving his prey into the middle of nowhere he begins dispatching them with remorseless glee.

If I have any criticisms about Season 2, it’s that they have turned Mick too much into an unstoppable killing machine like Jason Voorhees. There are a number of teams he should quite easily have been killed, or at least slowed considerably, but there he is moments later back and badder than ever. Couple that with a few silly and unlikely decisions by our protagonists or others they meet along they way, and we have something which feels more contrived and cartoonish that the first Season. That being said, it’s still great stuff. Most of the cast are good and the time is taken to get to know their strengths and flaws. There is still a lot of up close and personal violence, with gruesome practical effects, and Mick is as rewarding and funny as ever. The story sometimes hints at a wider or future plot, but whether or not a third entry in the show or movie series will be made remains to be seen. With lead actor Jarrett accused of some serious crimes from a few decades ago, I can’t say much being done until is name is cleared (if it is). Would Wolf Creek work without him? It’s hard to see it happening, as Jarrett completely embodies the character, and all of his ticks, smirks, his voice, his stature, and of course that laugh – without those you would have a very different prospect on your hands.

Who’s it all for then? Fans of the movies should feel right at home, and anyone with a love for horror should get on board. If you like your horror violent and without holding back, then you’ll get a kick out of this, but it’s also funny, beautifully shot, and well acted and written, even if things do get a little silly the further down the line we get. My wife loved it too, and she has been avoiding the horror scene for a while now, unless it’s a creature feature. Horror is making a splash on the small screen in recent years, but it feels like this show flew a little under the radar. If you like horror, then you have no excuse not to seek this out and enjoy a bloody good time.

Let us know what you thought of the series in the comments below!

Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Pinball Wizard

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Greetings, Glancers! Since the series disappeared from Amazon Prime, I haven’t bothered trying to catch up on any more episodes. I see on the stats though that the old posts get a few views every so often so it’s time to kick off my ‘hilarious’ reviews once more. Looking at the title and the synposis, I have no memory of this episode. Does it feature a deaf, dumb, and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball? I sure hope so. About that synopsis though:

Ross is a latchkey kid and spends his time after school playing pinball at the mall. Mr Ohlsen, manager of the arcade, leaves him there alone and warns him not to play the ‘Mystery Machine’. Temptation gets the best of Ross and he plays it anyway. He becomes absorbed in the game, loses track of time, and soon finds that he is locked inside the mall.

You see, this is promising. Malls and horror go hand in hand like zombies and chopper blades. And to that the fact (as I’ve probably mentioned here before) that I’ve always loved the idea of being trapped in a mall overnight – as a kid it was one of my dreams. It still kind of is. American Malls, I should add, are a hell of a lot different from the crap we have over here.

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All these are dead

While you have fountains and playing areas and multi-levels and hundreds of stores, all I had growing up was a large supermarket (or one on either end) with a few minor stores dotted around it. Everything would be on a single level, and instead of fountains we had tramps pissing in the corner. My favourite destinations were the Toy Store, naturally, and the doughnut joint where you could watch the doughnuts being made, splatting into the fryer, travelling up the belt, and being covered in sugar. For a while there things got better, with higher quality shops and better options – now though it’s just pound (dollar) shops and pointless clothes places. Who buys clothes, seriously?

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I rarely do

Regardless, who wouldn’t want to be stuck in a mall overnight. Ignoring being caught by the authorities, think of all the awesome antics you could get up to and all the food you could devour. If there was an arcade, of course you’d have to spend some time there. Which takes us back to the episode. We open as we generally do, with the campfire weirdos prepping for another night of just-pubescent terror. David is playing on his Gameboy (90s, yo) while Betty Anne watches, until Eric turns the game off. Shockingly, David does not use the Gameboy as truncheon to sprinkle shards of Eric’s skull into the fire. Fake Rufio (Frank), Kirsten, and Kiki all discuss videogames for a few moments until Gary shows up to tell his tale, reminding the viewer that in real life we can’t simply hit the reset button when shit goes south. And so, our Tale begins.

We get some nice opening shots of the mall which make 90s me jealous and angry about not living in America. Does anyone know what Mall this is and if it has appeared in any other media? It looks familiar. Ross is our (anti?) hero, hunting for quarters and dimes in the mall’s fountains and he is accosted by what appears to be a homeless person wrapped in luxury bedding. After being interrupted by an indoor-shades-wearing security chump, while sinister thumpy piano music plays, Ross checks out a super-soaker with two giant bronze dildos adorning its surface. Ross goes to speak to Mr Olsen, where we learn that Ross is doing an awful Sylvester Stallone impression. Is this supposed to make him look tough? Italian? It’s a very awkward performance. Olsen tells him to get out after he uncovers a mysterious new pinball machine. What the hell is this store? It looks like a Cobbler’s – there are no furnishings or paint on the walls or decorations of any type, just some old timey cash register and a fiery pinball machine.

Olsen has a change of heart and decides to leave Ross in charge for a while so that he can grab a late lunch. In true forbidden fruit style he reminds Ross not to touch anything, especially the new pinball machine. Can you see where this is going? In Ross’s defence, he does last about four seconds before abandoning his duties and going on a silver ball hunt. He appears to shove his hands down his pants to check his own balls are in place first. Note to employers – if this guy enters your offices, do not approach him or make contact in any way. The mystery machine has a cartoonish court jester as its central relief, surrounded by other regal emblazons. Inexplicably, Ross begins touching his genitals again while saying ‘wow’, and then sticks some money in the slot. As he plays, we get a shot of Olsen hanging around outside, listening and grinning. It’s all highly dubious and seemingly perverted.

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Any excuse

A hot girl enters the store looking for her music box to be returned and Ross thinks to himself I have some silver balls I’d like to return to your music box. This scene is very awkward too, at least this time it’s deliberate. She leaves and, you’ve guessed it, Ross rushes out back to touch himself again. After a brief montage of gaming cliches Ross realizes he has somehow been left in the store alone and the Mall has closed. Things take a creepy turn as Ross panics and receives mysterious, prophetic phone calls. Two Gestapo or MIB jump-scare into view and terrify Ross with their detachable limbs. A whole unit of these mindless fucks appear, but it seems they can’t pass over water – must be white-walkers or Baptists or something.

Hot girl appears once more, shrieking about keys and tiaras, while an extra from Prince Of Thieves struggles to hold her without touching her boobs. At least Ross appears to be somewhat resourceful, shoveling handfuls of water towards the MIB which makes them dance out of shot. Is Ross in the game? Has the game come to life? Nobody knows. Still, there’s some good jump-scares and weirdness and old school game noises to enjoy. The musical cues and music in general are pretty funny. He grabs a magical tiara then chases hot girl down a Workers Only entry, only to be jump-scared by Grotbags. That was actually a pretty effective and well timed scare – we’ve had a few of these in this episode, so kudos. I can imagine kids being freaked out by all this – on a personal note, I’ve always found high pitched cackling, the likes of which the witch emits here, to be deeply disturbing. You know those moments you have in the house in the dark where you think something is standing behind you or about to grab your foot as you tiptoe upstairs? It’s high-pitched wails that do it for me – I imagine myself entering a room and seeing a shadow figure rush towards me, wailing, and my sphincter sneezes.

Next up we have more awkward scenes with Ross and Sophie about keys, music boxes, tiaras, an executioner, the witch, thrones – Ross is as confused as us. Things get more confusing when Ross gently rolls a handful of marbles (clearly pinballs) towards the witch. The witch sees them coming but rather than step to the side, open her legs and let them roll through, or simply stand still and watch them bounce of her feet, she somehow does the whole Home Alone back flip onto her arse. There’s a torturous ‘chase the slow moving Tiara’ scene, more weird stuff happens, and just as it looks like the game has been won the bad guys come and send Ross back to the ground floor. Ross learns from his mistakes, grabs the supersoaker, and heads off to battle. After some furious squirting the enemy is vanquished and hot girl is crowned – yay! Just time for a twist ending and some more chatter from the campfire weirdos.

If there’s a message here, it seems to be that videogames are evil and for losers. Presumably as it’s the last episode of the season, Campfire Ross looks directly into the camera and says ’till next time’. Yeah, don’t push your luck, son. Some of the weirdos don’t even return for Season 2. Anyway, this was an inconsistent and weird episode that had good ideas and some good scares, but was let down my poor acting and too short a running time to really explore what they wanted to do. Still, for any kids watching this at the time it would have been a decent enough end to the season.

Lets take a look at the roster from today’s episode. Joe Posca starred as Ross and has some good, mostly bad moments, and according to IMDB he only managed two further credits – as Puerto Rican boy in some TV movie and Drew’s Teammate in some TV series. The hot girl – Sophie – on the other hand was played by Polly Shannon who has had a pretty bright career as writer, producer, and actress. She has been in a bunch of TV movies and series including Leap Years, La Femme Nikita, and The Girl Next Door. AJ Henderson (Olson) makes his second appearance in AYAOTD so we won’t talk about him again. One of the interesting things about the episode is that a few of the actors play dual roles – the bed mummy at the start is also the witch, the security guard is also the Sheriff, and the Wrestler, Nutcracker, and Executioner are all played by Normand James – he of the unnecessary D. He plays three roles here, but that’s all he ever did apparently. Tom Rack has had a long and varied career though, aside from his dual performance in this episode he has also been in many shorts, TV shows, done voice work and bigger movies such as The Human Stain and 300 albeit in minor roles. He also returns in a later AYAOTD episode. Finally, Witch/Mummy is played by Nathalie Gautier who performance her seemed to be her last, having previously been in a small number of unknown movies like Mind Benders and Night Of The Dribbler.

Let us know in the comments what you though of this one. Next time up, it’s The Tale Of….. Sweet Dreams!

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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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