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?

My Favourite 60 (is) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episodes – Part 5 (Season 5)

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In honour of the (now not so) recent 10 year anniversary of Buffy’s final episode airing (tears), I’m adding my Buffy-related list to the millions of others slaying the internet at the mo. By way of introduction, this is slightly more than just a list, as I’m giving a tiny blurb on each episode along with why it’s a favourite, and I’ll be giving a favourite moment and piece of dialogue too. Most of the 12 people who will read this list, will likely be here because they are already Buffy fans, but for the rest of you, here be spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show yet (weirdo) go do that first, then come back. I’ll still be here.

Season 5

Sorry, it’s been a while since my lost Buffy post. Too many ideas, so little time and will. Aah, Season 5. Depending on who you ask this is either where it started to go wrong, or is the peak of the show. While I would never say the show ever went wrong, I do prefer the earlier seasons – the humour, the lightheartedness, the camaraderie etc. With Season 5, things begin to get serious, and dark. Not in a ‘my boyfriend turned evil and I may have to kill him’ way, but in a ‘my future is going nowhere, I have no hopes or dreams, all my friends are moving on without me, I have too many responsibilities that I don’t want, and everyone I love is dying’ kind of way. There’s an unnamed atmosphere too that niggles me, a mixture of colour, texture, and sound rather than plot and character. But on the plus side, we have some of the finest episodes of Television ever made in this Season, we have massive, unexpected twists, we have plenty of powerful emotional episodes, unforgettable moments, and the show still manages to be fresh, funny, exciting, and scary at various points. It’s difficult to argue against this being the most consistently well serialized Season, and it’s easy to see why so many say it is the best.

Buffy Vs Dracula

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Another enjoyable Season Pilot, Buffy Vs Dracula does exactly as the title suggests. Out on patrol in the early moments of the episode, Buffy is confronted by a tall, dark stranger who claims to be Dracula. The real Dracula. Starstruck fun and games ensue. There really isn’t a lot more to it, story wise – the ladies are enchanted by the Count, Xander does a Renfield, Giles almost does three sisters, and it appears that Dracula cannot be killed and so disappears for another day. What the episode does do is set out a lot of the big stuff that will be happening throughout the rest of the Season and the Series as a whole – Giles feels like he is no longer needed and confides in Willow, not Buffy, that he wishes to return to England. Willow is casually using magic more and more, needlessly. Riley doesn’t appear to be giving Buffy everything she needs and while she appears distant, seeking out her own truths, he is hurt and depressed – Spike stirs the pot making Riley feel more useless. There is a scene on a beach where each of the couples is present and happy – a thundercloud and storm hits, and they all run to get out of the rain – foreshadowing. In the end, Buffy manages to convince Giles to stay (before he could get a chance to announce his departure) by asking him to be her Watcher again, and for them to go deeper into the history of The Slayer to learn about the source of her power. And finally, in the final scene of the episode we get one giant WTF as a young teenage girl appears in Buffy’s bedroom. Oh, didn’t you know? Buffy now has a sister. Hiya, Dawn!

There is a lot packed into this episode, but much of this is only apparent upon re-watches. It’s nice to get some humour in there, usually in the form of Xander being Dracula’s willing slave. In a funny hint towards the lack of humour coming in the rest of the Season, Xander announces he will no longer be the butt-monkey of the group. The appearance of Dawn is probably the top or second most problematic point in the show’s history which continues to divide fans (the other one being Buffy and Angel or Buffy and Spike). I never really had a problem with Dawn – she may be whiny at times and more often than not make stupid decisions which get her into trouble, but Trachtenberg is a capable actress and she brings a believability to the character. It simply seems at times that the writers didn’t know what to do with her, or how to write her, but her inclusion is a positive and of course of vital importance. As overall Season openers go, it isn’t particularly strong but it does lay out its intentions very well, with both clear and subtle flags. I like it though, because it gives a few of the last glimpses of the good old days before….

Favourite Moment: Xander’s addition of ‘Bater’ to various words to try to hide the fact that he is working for Dracula – ‘the dark Master…. Bater’…’the unholy Prince….Bater’.

The Replacement

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It’s no surprise that my next episode is another standalone, predominantly humour based episode. While the previous episode told us all about Dawnie, from her perspective, this one is all about Xander – a character who was largely put to the background in the previous Season. Like in Season 4, Xander is struggling to find his place in the group, especially now that he no longer wants butt-monkey duties. He has a stable relationship, but his work prospects and general outlook on life are poor. He doesn’t allow himself to see his own strengths, something all the more depressing when surrounded by Slayers, Witches, Demons, Vampires, soldiers, and brainiacs. He’s just a normal bloke, with plenty of flaws, and no super powers. The episode attempts to show us, and Xander himself that he is capable, that he has many strengths that others in the group do not possess – human strengths, but he just needs a little shove to see them, and to believe in himself. That shove comes in the form of a demon call Toth, who blasts Xander accidentally after trying to hit Buffy – Xander is spit into two forms – apparently good Xander, and bad Xander.

It’s a familiar trope, the old two bodies gag, and the episode revels in the charm of Brendon’s performance. We follow ‘good Xander’ as he stumbles between misfortunes, watching as ‘bad Xander’ seems to hypnotize everyone he meets, getting a new job, apartment, and getting a little too close to Anya. It turns out though that both Xanders are the real Xander, just that two sides of his personality were divided among the two bodies. Seeing that all the supposedly incredible stuff the other Xander was doing was him along, the newly joined Xander seems to have overcome his issues. Of course we know that ‘Weak Xander’ will continue to cause problems in the future, allowing doubts to persuade him to take ill-advised paths. While all of this is funny and revealing, we get some other important plot threads – Riley confesses to Xander at the end of the episode that Buffy doesn’t love him (Riley), Spike has a weird obsession with Buffy to the point of him having a doll version of her, and Joyce gets a sore head. It’s those late in the episode gut punches which go a long way to why the Season doesn’t always get in my best books – everything is going so well, and boom – depression. Good for the show, not good for me. Another solid episode, if not outstanding.

Favourite Moment: Anya’s plans for having two Xanders, and her disappointment at not getting some… plans.

Family

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I like Tara. I just don’t love Tara as many do. I really wish I could, but for most of the series run she just seems like a less interesting version of Willow who rarely finds her own personality or voice. I don’t think that Amber Benson is the best actress, or at least shows me enough as Tara to convince me (excellent singer though). However, the episodes that do focus on her, or something major happening in her life are usually very strong, and that strength stems from the emotion. Family finally delivers some much needed backstory for Tara, while cementing that core Buffy idea that family does not necessarily mean a blood connection, it’s who you choose. This of course is highly ironic given the importance of blood connections in this Season. Did the writers know this? Were the purposefully including Tara but preparing for her exclusion? Probably not.

The episode centres on Tara’s family coming to visit, and her being nervous about it all. We learn that Tara has essentially been a slave her entire life, and that her family doesn’t think much of women, especially not strong, clever, homosexual women. Tara has been lead to believe that she is a demon by her family (as a means of control) and they have come to Sunnydale to order her to return home with them. It’s not clear why such a controlling family ever allowed her to leave in the first place, but hey ho. Tara casts a spell so that her friends won’t see her demon side, but that happily coincides with Glory sending a pack of Demons to wipe out Buffy and her friends. We get an exciting finale as the gang blindly fights of invisible monsters. Just when it looks like the gang is about to blame Tara for all this, and send her back with her family, they instead embrace her, and form a wall of protection stating that she is part of the Scooby family. Tara realizes she is loved, finds out she’s all human, and we all cry. Amy Adams disapproves. The ending is fantastic, and a genuine, heartwarming tearjerker.

That’s not all that’s going on of course – the episode directly discusses my feelings about Tara  – the group all say they like her, it’s just that they don’t know enough about her. Presumably from this point on it’s known that Tara and the others become close, but with the exception of Dawn and Tara, it doesn’t really happen. We learn a little more about Glory, the gang tries to research her but come up blank, and Buffy decides to move back home from Uni to be closer to Dawn and Joyce and protect them. She tells Giles the truth about Dawn, and how it is important that no-one else finds out. Spike continues to hang around and in his spare time he fantasizes about Buffy (or while shagging Harmony). Riley continues his spiral of depression by drinking alone at bars, and gets hit on by a sexy vampire. Lots of stuff then, and most of it can be tied in to the episode’s central theme. It is nice to finally get this information on Tara, and it is nice to have her fully accepted into the group, and the final scenes are classic Buffy stuff.

Favourite Moment: Everything in that final Magic Shop scene, from Anya asking what kind of Demon Tara is, to Spike punching Tara, to Buffy’s final word on the matter – ‘we’re family’.

Fool For Love

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Keeping with the idea of Buffy seeking to learn more about her Slayer history and lineage, Fool For Love delves deep into the dark history of a number of Slayers but via the memories of Spike. Buffy is on a routine patrol and fights a routine vampire, but almost dies when the vampire uses her own stake against her. The fact that Buffy goes to Spike for this information is an interesting one and feeds into their slooowly growing relationship and the decay of Riley/Buffy. Giles is sure to have plenty of information on Slayers going back for centuries, and although she does discuss this with Giles first, it seems the Watcher’s literature comes up short. Spike is the only person she knows who has fought several Slayers and killed two. In seeing the flashbacks through Spike’s eyes, we learn a lot more of his character over five different periods – before he was a vampire as a romantic failed poet, his fledgling days terrorizing Europe with Angel, Drusilla, and Darla, in China where he kills his first Slayer, New York a century later where he kills his second, and a few months prior to the central timeline where he is dumped by Drusilla. The ‘fool for love’ in question appears to be Spike, as the interesting construction of the episode shows a rollercoaster series of events for Spike which take him full circle, and finally branches off in a potentially new direction – he starts out as a loser, becomes a feared vampire but eventually his somehow retained human feelings and characteristics show him to be the loser he always was, with both Cecily and Buffy uttering the same hurtful line to him. It’s in the dying moments of the episode where we see the truly new Spike for the first time, as he consoles Buffy even though he has no idea what is wrong with her, even though moments before he was planning to kill her.

It’s the script and the construction of Fool For Love which make it so strong – not only does it tie in well with the Angel episode Darla, but it revels in the dance between Spike and Buffy, between vampire and Slayer. Spike reveals that all Slayers have a dark side – a death wish, that having the burden of the world on their shoulders means that when the end comes they are glad for it; A Slayer may fight and win for years, but one single moment of doubt, of wanting it to be over is all an opportunistic vampire needs to kill her. Spike also draws attention to the fact that Buffy is admittedly different as she is not a lone wolf, but uses her family and friends as her strength. This all ties in with the dual forces tugging for control in Season 5 – with family being the source of strength for every character, but with the echoing sentiment that ‘Death Is Your Gift’ becoming increasingly important (if ambiguous). The death wish argument continues to be important all through Season 6 for Buffy, and even for Spike in Season 7. Also notable is the fact that there are not many laughs in the episode, the beginning of Season 5’s descent into much gloomier, depressing territory.

Favourite Moment: All of the flashback scenes standout, but just for a change I’ll pick a fight scene – Spike’s fight with the Chinese Slayer.

Listening To Fear

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I’d rank Listening To Fear as one of the most frightening Buffy episodes. Not only because the Queller demon is icky and skittering and yuck, but because of the reality of what is happening to Joyce and the way in which it is handled. We are watching a character we (mostly) love disintegrate as the tumour in her head causes her to lose her grip on reality. We are helpless in many ways, most notably that this is a medical condition that can’t be cured by magic or a stake, and because the demon in the house, in Joyce’s room is sitting there looking at her but no-one would realise she is talking about it because she has been ranting like a loon for the whole episode anyway. It’s also maybe the only time in the entire show that we deal with an alien, as the Queller is extra-terrestrial.

The demon doesn’t actually need to come from outer space, it seems like an excuse to throw in a few one-liners. The whole thing about the demon being summoned to rid the world of ‘crazy’ people is a little silly too but it does lead to the revelation that Ben knows Glory and is somehow connected to her. More important though is that while Joyce was off getting magical crazy person gifts, she saw what all of the other insane people saw – that Dawn is not real. She talks to Buffy about this, but in a touching scene says that it doesn’t matter if she’s not real, she is still her daughter, and she is still Buffy’s sister. She asks Buffy to take care of Dawn if anything should happen to her, before being wheeled into the operating room. Elsewhere Spike is still creeping on Buffy and belittling Riley any chance he gets. Those moments when Joyce suddenly switches and lets rip with some vulgarity are genuinely shocking and the scenes with the Queller demon in her room will make you uncomfortable – again there is not much humour or light-hearted stuff on offer.

Favourite Moment: The entire bedroom scene with Joyce, filled with little heartbreaking and terrifying moments, from Buffy sobbing while she does the dishes, to Dawn beating it off her mother.

Triangle

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Finally, praise be to Jane Espenson, a comedy based episode! We’ve needed this after the slow burning agony of the last string of episodes and after the departure of Riley. There’s a lot going on here, with Spike crafting speeches to his creepy Buffy mannequin, Buffy trying to move on without Riley, Giles trying to get information from The Council about Glory, Anya and Willow fighting over Xander, and a giant Troll rampaging through Sunnydale in search of ale, wenches, and babies. A lot of pack in, but Espenson and Director Hibler handle it all well. We get snippets about Anya’s past life as it turns out her and Olaf used to be a thing, we acquire Olaf’s Hammer, we learn that Willow thinks rat Amy is watching her and scheming, and that she is using magic increasingly without remorse. In the climax we see that Xander can’t choose between letting Willow or Anya live, yet Anya chooses to sacrifice herself (before Buffy gets her heartbroken rage on). An episode with some laughs then, not one which advances the series arc in any meaningful way (until watching in retrospect), but a respite from the gloom. There are some laughs, a few hilarious moments and plenty of good one-liners, but it doesn’t rank up with the funnier, earlier episodes.

Favourite Moment: Buffy bursting into tears over Xander and Anya’s ‘miraculous love’.

Checkpoint

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Checkpoint brings back, to the delight of no-one, The Watcher’s Council. As expected, the gang is nervous about this to varying degrees – Buffy is concerned that they will put her life in danger again with some silly set of tests, Giles is nervous that they will be looking down at him as a former employee and traitor, everyone feels they need to be on their best behaviour, Anya creates an elaborate back story so everyone thinks she is an apple pie eating patriotic non-demon, while Spike flirts. There’s a lot of fun in the episode with all of the lies and exaggerating and stress, but the episode does a lot to push forward the main arc about Glory and Dawn, as well as strengthening a few of our characters. It contains a few standout moments and shocks, and another wince-inducing, punch the TV moment.

The episode begins with a look at both the Scoobies and Glory’s freak outs – Scoobies for the aforementioned reasons, and Glory because she is growing weaker and more distressed at not being able to find The Key. The Watchers Council arrives and forces Buffy, surprise surprise, through a series of tests and interviews – if she doesn’t comply not only will they withhold information from her regarding Glory, but they will deport Giles. PUNCH TV. Ooh ho no, that isn’t the punch TV moment I referenced above, that comes courtesy of some random dickhead lecturer in one of Buffy’s classes. The whole University thing has been sadly neglected this Season, and this acts as the nail in the coffin – it’s nowhere near as bad as when the dickhead lecturer shouts at Buffy in The Freshman, but its enough to make Buffy feel like education is worthless. Buffy suggests an alternate way of thinking (what University should be about) but the lecturer ridicules her in front of everyone in a prime example of  what is known as tiny cock syndrome. The scene does of course serve a purpose, leading to Buffy’s decision in the final scene of the episode which ironically is one of the biggest and best fist-pumping moments in the whole show – yay! Basically, Buffy feels like she is losing control and others are either making decisions for her, taking away choice completely, or not allowing her to think and act for herself – she’s  Buffy, I think she’s earned a little credit.

On the Glory side, Ben foolishly lets slip that The Key is a person to one of Glory’s minions. Although he beats Jinx to a pulp, he stupidly doesn’t kill him, and Jinx revelas the truth to Glory – uh oh. Glory heads straight to Buffy’s house, where Dawn and Joyce are all alone. This scene is pretty scary as we are used to the anti-vampire stuff surrounding houses, but Glory heads on in with no issues. Luckily this leads to some fun between Spike and Joyce – some nice characterization which again makes Spike lovers go all luvvy duvvy. After this, the almost worthless Knights Of The Byzantium attack Buffy – this group opposes Glory and decides that the only way to stop her is to destroy The Key. Sigh, if only they worked with Buffy. I’ve never liked these Knights, finding them out of place, underwritten, and uninteresting, even though the idea of an ancient order of Knights trying to protect the world is interesting in itself. It just doesn’t pay off and takes time away from the more interesting Glory and what is happening with The Scoobies in the rest of the Season. Buffy has had enough, vocally rips the Watcher’s Council apart, and takes complete control of her own destiny – what a fantastic way to end the episode. Unnntil Travers tells us that Glory isn’t a demon…. she’s a God. Oh.

The whole Glory is a God thing is a fine gut punch to close the episode, but in retrospect it doesn’t really mean anything. Sure, it sounds like Glory can’t be killed but we know she is just another bad guy that Buffy will have to defeat somehow – in the end she isn’t really any different from a vampire, demon, or cyborg and this kind of takes the impact out of the God line on re-watches. It’s a memorable episode for the various reveals and plot pushing, and it thankfully does still have some humourous moments – it’s these reveals which distinguish the episode from others in the Season which I find to be very similar and more of a single large episode cut into different parts rather than actual separate stories.

Favourite Moment: Buffy’s entire final speech is glorious, from her delivery and performance, to the reactions and additions and reactions, all capped by the flawless ‘I’m fairly certain I said no interruptions’. Now Buffy is the Professor!

The Body

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Oh, Sweet Jeebus no. I feel entirely inadequate talking about this episode when so many smarter and more informed and more impacted people have written much better commentaries and reviews of this episode. For anyone who hasn’t read any of those, I’ll simply go as far as saying that this is unquestionably one of the best episodes of TV ever. That isn’t just the fanboy in me – anyone who watches this is moved, and perhaps even changed by the episode. Its depiction of death, grief, and loss, is so raw and unflinching and realistic that anyone who has been touched by death or even been close to it or thought about it will find this an incredibly difficult watch. I honestly can’t say anything bad about it aside from I wish I could watch it more – my favourite episodes by and large I can return to for a one-off watch, but nobody decides to just stick on The Body for an hour’s entertainment. There have been times I just haven’t been able to finish this episode, breaking down and turning it off. Whedon even manages plenty of black humour in the episode – two fake-outs (the ambulance and Dawn crying at school), Xander’s wall punch, the broken rib, as well as some touching stuff with Willow and Tara. How this episode didn’t win every award in the world is beyond me – Gellar, Trachtenberg, Hannigan, Caulfield all give extraordinary performances and Whedon’s direction and writing has never been better. Scratch that – nobody’s direction and writing has been better, anywhere, at any time. There are sooo many good moments in this episode, and so much to talk about, but talking would simply cheapen how I feel about it, and how it is. If you haven’t seen this episode, you owe it to yourself, hell you owe it to the show to go back and watch from Episode 1, all the way up to this point and experience The Body for yourself.

Favourite Moment: Anya’s speech.

Forever

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I’ve always felt that, after The Body, the remainder of Season Five drags along slowly as if it has admitted to itself that the quality will be inevitably downhill after such a high point. The episodes are less episodic and blend into one whole, which is fine when you have a show as good as this, but it feels too dreary and lifeless. Of course, all of that (or at least a large part of it) is intentional – we are in mourning, and even though we are in mortal danger there is a gaping void and an apathy to current events. However, Forever doesn’t truly fall into this category as it feels more like The Body 1.5. We deal with the events immediately following The Body, namely Joyce’s funeral and its preparations, and how the Scoobies are each coping with the realization that she is gone. We move beautifully between the characters coping individually and within groups – Buffy and Angel, Dawn and Willow and Tara, Xander and Anya, with touching cameos by Giles and Spike. Almost every one of these scenes is fine-tuned to twist our hearts that little bit tighter, whether it be Giles listening alone to a song he once played for Joyce, or Spike bringing flowers as a sign of respect for a woman who was good to Spike even though she had no reason to be.We briefly visit Ben and Jinx to remind ourselves that she is still plotting, and witness Ben letting slip that The Key is a human. Oopsee!

The rest of the episode is key (sorry) for quickening and preparing for what happens to Willow in Season 6 as she subtly encourages Dawn to investigate a resurrection spell – a serious piece of dark magic. It is clear here that Willow ‘s coping mechanism for her own grief or to help ease the grief of others, is to resort to the quick fix, the magic, and the things which go against the natural order. This leads to three important encounters; Dawn and Spike – where Spike offers to help Dawn, Spike, Dawn, and The Doc – an excruciatingly creepy scene featuring the excellent Joel Grey, and finally a rather generic action scene where Spike and Dawn try to steal an egg from some demon. This all culminates in a terrific scene with wonderful performances by Trachtenberg and Gellar as they argue over the spell, with Dawn accusing Buffy of being heartless while Buffy admits to trying to avoid the fact that Joyce is gone because it’s only real if she thinks about it. As all this is happening, we see the shadow of a woman pass by the window and head towards the front door….

While the episode can’t compete with the sheer exhausting exercise that is The Body, it is nevertheless another powerful episode which will have you quivering with fear and sadness at various points. At turns devastating and horrifying, the ending is yet another gut punch which we still carry the bruises of.

Favourite Moment: Buffy and Dawn falling to the floor together upon opening the front door.

The Gift

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Here we have it – the end. I mentioned before how I would have been happy had Buffy ended at Season 3 – it was a perfect way to end the show, with the group saving the world once more and looking towards bright futures. I feel the same way about The Gift in that it is a perfect ending to the show, and had it not been picked up by another network and continued for another two years, I would have been happy. It’s everything that a finale should be, and it is again one of the greatest hours of television you’ll ever experience. All those cryptic references from previous episodes and Seasons finally make sense, and Buffy does what every Slayer is born to do – give her life for the world.

We have seen in previous episodes Buffy’s world being stripped away – her friends trying to settle down, her boyfriend leaving, her mother dying, and finally her sister being kidnapped by an all powerful Goddess which she was entirely helpless to prevent. How can she protect the world if she can’t even protect her sister? But as the episode opens, there is a new sense of energy and purpose – we get quick blasts of every single episode before Buffy coolly dispatches a simple vampire in an alley while a bemused boy answers ‘you’re just a girl’. That’s the entire show in a nutshell, and although it grew into so much more it’s nice to see us stripped right back to the basics. Everything about this episode has that sense of closure and finality – from the references to the past, to the pacing, to the old fashioned Scooby plotting, all the way to the end – if we’re going out with a bang, lets make it one that will echo through the ages.

The gang are thinking desperately of ways to stop Glory – if she sacrifices Dawn then The Key’s power will unlock the doors between dimensions and basically rip apart reality, bringing hell on earth – few if any would survive. Killing Dawn is one solution, but Buffy will not consider it even if it means everyone else dies. Killing Ben is another, though nobody thinks Ben will be around. Willow suggests that no-one needs to die as (silly rules of rituals) Glory only has a few moments to perform her ritual so they just need to distract her and stop her long enough for that window of time to pass. Cue Dagon Spheres, Troll Hammers, magic, wrecking balls, Buffy Bots, and every other weapon they can muster. Elsewhere, Glory and Ben prepare Dawn for the ritual wile Dawn berates Ben for being worse than Glory as he is willingly going along with her murder. Buffy confides in Giles that she cannot be The Slayer anymore if these are the choices she is constantly being forced to make, saying she doesn’t understand who to live in a world like this. Willow plots to reverse Tara’s brain suck, Xander proposes to Anya, and the final battle begins.

I love everything about the final moments – there is such a wild mix of emotions that I wish there were some reaction videos of people watching the episode for the first time. Before that though, I think the setting is wonderful, the fight scenes and stunt work are exceptional, and we barely get a chance to catch our breath. There are so many fist-pumping scenes where you will be screaming ‘YESSSS!’ at the TV, coupled with quieter, more tender moments, cold and calculated surprises, and complete shocks where you all be screaming ‘NOOOO!’ at the TV. The final gut punch comes as it looks like The Scoobies have won – they have defeated Glory – but they are too late. Doc appears, cuts Dawn, throws Spike off the building, and makes sure that the ritual continues. While Buffy hilariously dispatches of Doc, we know that the portal is about to open and so Buffy has an epiphany, understands that Death is her gift, says goodbye to Dawn, and leaps to her death. When it all ends, we find Buffy’s body shattered, the Scoobies victorious, but broken and in mourning once more.

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A special episode in a special show, and there isn’t anything more any of us could ask for. The cast give some of their finest performances, you will cry until there is nothing left inside, and you’ll want everyone in the world to watch it too. Special kudos to Christophe Beck for coming back especially to write the music for this episode. Naturally it was written and directed by Whedon, instantly a seal of quality. There are so many discussion points in this episode that it will continue to be debated for decades to come – if only I had some real friends to talk about it to face to face, but when I was watching it live most of my friends had stopped watching it, and no-one I know now has seen it. Ah well, that’s what blogs are for. Next up we hit the critic’s favourite Season 6, the series where the show goes too far into the dark side and becomes almost unwatchable – not because of a drop in quality, but because it is unrelentingly grim as the fallout from this episode rip our favourite characters to tatters, and nothing is ever the same again.

What are your favourite episodes of Season Five? Which scenes, lines, and moments make you cry, scream, and laugh? Let us know you thoughts in the comments!

 Don’t forget my other Season recaps here: Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Season 4

Sh*t I Used To Watch – Saved By The Bell

Greetings, glancers! It’s time again for another narcissistic tumble through time as I force my memories upon unsuspecting web travelers like you.

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Look! It’s You!

Today I remember a cult kids classic which, for a few years, was a prerequisite of weekend viewing. Saved By The Bell was a classic of its form – a bunch of kids in some picturesque US school get up to weekly comedic escapades, making viewers feel a part of the action and giving us a vicarious bunch of friends we were glad to call our own. Saved By The Bell followed (mainly) six friends as they made their way through high school, growing up through all the teenage pains and tribulations, from peer pressure to romance, to temptation, schoolwork, sex, pranks, and more in between. The show was so successful that it led to a spin-off sequel series, two movies, and a second follow-up series which lasted even longer than the original. The show made stars of its cast, and in many cases it has been one of those instances where cast member will forever be known as the character the played, no matter what later successes they moved on to.

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I can’t say for sure when I first started watching Saved By The Bell and I was surprised when I saw how early the running dates were – with the series first airing from 1989 – 1993. What I do know for sure is that by the time The College Years aired I was already a big fan and watched each new episode of the College Years as they came to the UK, so presumably I watched the original from the time it was first airing. That likely explains why, even though I love it and have fond memories, I can remember so few actual episodes in their entirety. Now of course the show didn’t follow any sort of true arc and episodes therefore blend easily into one another, but I would have been younger than ten years old when I started watching.

I Don’t Like Sundays

So what did younger than ten years old me do on Sundays? I’ve always hated Sundays, with a passion. If Fridays were all about getting out of school, playing football and soldiers etc with friends, and if Saturdays were all about messing around, watching TV, going swimming, then Sundays were universally, inevitable depressing. Sundays in my house always featured some drab local radio talk show droning in the background, there was never anything good on TV until close to bed time, you were watching the minutes tick down towards school starting up again, and of course the whole day was based around waiting for Sunday School at 2 pm. That meant getting a bath or shower before hand, getting into hideous, itchy, scratchy clothes, being dragged down the road to a freezing gospel hall, and spending the next hour sitting among smelly, dim-witted, ill-behaved locals being told that I was born in sin and was going to burn in an eternal lake of fire. That was from 2 – 3 pm, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad had it been 10 – 11 so we could have had the rest of the day to look forward too. It was what it was though, and once 3pm turned around, I was out of there like Satan from Heaven, home via Page One – a local newsagent that stayed open on Sundays – where we would stop in and buys sweets. You see, if you answered questions correctly in Sunday School, you got money, so I would exchange my holy wares for whatever was most sugary and unhealthy as soon as possible – a cleansing ritual if you will. When we got home there was just enough time to catch some Italian football on Channel 4 before Sunday dinner was prepared. If we were lucky, some decent movie would be on before bed, or at the very least I could play with my toys in solitude before catching a You’ve Been Framed before lying down and preparing for another week of education.

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I’ve always commented on how my hatred of Sundays is intertwined with my hatred of Sunday TV – one didn’t cause the other, but like the serpent eating its own head – they are inseparable, without beginning or end. Shows like Land Of The Giants, Wurzell Gummidge, Lost In Space, The Waltons, those filled me with existential dread at an age when I didn’t know why I should hate such things. If someone told 8-year-old me that there was this show with talking scarecrows, or where people were trapped a million miles from home or were shrunk down to the size of crumbs, then I would have thought ‘amazing, sign me up’, but when I actually saw them on a Sunday, or knew they were coming on, I felt sick to my stomach. Even now the mere mention of these things depresses me. While for many years Saturday and Sunday morning kids TV wasn’t actually all that different, with Motormouth being shown on ITV on both days, Saturdays still had the far superior shows (and Saturdays also had something like Going Live or The Wide Awake Club too). You knew that Sundays would be made up of cheap knock off Disney shows sandwiched between political, topical, or religious debate, and if you dared flick over to BBC 2 you’d hit Ski Sunday or Songs Of Praise. At some point though, Channel 4 got its shit together and began showing decent TV, with Saved By The Bell right up there being the show everyone wanted to watch. Ironically, I can’t remember talking about the show with anyone aside from my brother, and it wasn’t until I moved out of Primary school (and The College Years started) that I found anyone else who watched it and was willing to talk about it. For a brief time there was something worth looking forward to on Sundays, the glossy, pastel-tinged perfection of California where everyone was beautiful, and school actually looked like fun.

Shenanigans

The show was born out of an earlier Disney experiment – Good Morning, Miss Bliss which featured Hayley Mills along with students Zach Morris, Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers, and Lisa Turtle, as well as Mr Belding. It wasn’t a success and a bunch of the characters were moved over to a new show which wanted to focus on the students and their school life. Joining Zach, Lisa, and Screech were Zach’s friend Jesse, love interest Kelly, and exchange student A.C Slater. Zach is your typical popular prankster, an intelligent slacker who enjoys scheming and messing around rather than actually studying and working. He’s head over heels in love with Kelly, the school’s perfect girl – charming, beautiful, popular, athletic, clever, but for much of the first season they are involved in a love triangle with Slater, the tough jock who eventually becomes Zach’s best friend. Slater has a relationship with Jesse, an interesting dynamic as Jesse is the opinionated freedom fighter of the group, fighting for various causes over the course of the series, none more so prevalent as feminism. Slater is the chauvinist of the group creating lots of funny sparring between the two. Adding some zany humour to the group is Screech, the slightly unhinged one, the nerd and weak otherwise loser who nevertheless is somehow part of the group and he has an unrequited love for Lisa, the fashion and gossip icon of the school. Add to the mix Mr Belding, the weary headmaster of the group, often a foil for the shenanigans, but someone who occasionally takes part in them, and you have the most famous group of school kids to ever set foot on TV.

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The show was of course filled with various forms of humour – slapstick, plot jokes, running gags, topical humour, but it also frequently broke the 4th wall. Any time something needed further explanation, or if Zach had a particularly strong idea he would shout ‘Time Out’ and essentially stop time so that he could speak to the audience. This sort of humour was not usual on Kids TV, and when merged with the likable characters and situations that kids could relate to, the show was a massive hit. It wasn’t all about the humour, as little by little we grew to know the characters, growing up with them and watching as they prepared to graduate. Bayside school became a second home as we watched the character meet by their lockers, while The Max – a little diner/cafe where they would meet after school was a pretty cool hangout the likes of which I always wanted as a kid. It was better than meeting at a friend’s house, a random street corner, or a field like what I had. To have a place with food, warmth, music, where all the kids cool and otherwise could gather together seemed like another world. Even though the show did deal with ‘issues’ it was rare to have a full-blown serious episode – Jesse’s addiction is the only famous example I can think of. But it did cover every other facet of adolescence, from being self-conscious over your height, weight, hair, skin, fashion, from dealing with infidelity, jealousy, pressure of being a star student, of being a sportsman, how to get a girlfriend/boyfriend, dating, studying, etc etc. Every week you knew the gang would get into some sort of scrape, and that there would be plenty of laughs watching them get out of it. The same basic format followed into The College Years, with some cast members dropping, and some staying on, but I’ll always be thankful that even though the series was cancelled, we got to see a happy ending in the Las Vegas movie.

Copy And Paste

The show was so popular that it could be said to almost single-handedly have put an end to Saturday Morning cartoons. Live action was suddenly all the rage, and a whole raft of imitators were put into production – California Dreams, Hangin With Mr Cooper, Hang Time, Sister Sister, USA High, Boy Meets World, Fresh Prince Of Bel Air etc all had something to owe Saved By The Bell. Naturally those shows varied in quality, with some taking on a life of their own and becoming important in their own right, and others simply being a copy and paste into a slightly different school or situation. I did watch them, as they tended to be a direct Sunday Morning replacement when Saved By The Bell ended, and while they were usually funny and distracting enough, they lacked the iconic characters.

Since the show ended, Mr Jimmy Fallon has managed to pull the cast(or most of them) together at two different times for a couple of amusing skits where they performed their old roles once again – you can catch these online and they’re pretty good fun. Aside from these, what else have the guys been up to? Mark Paul Gosselaar appeared in a variety of cancelled shows and bit parts and small movies before getting better roles in well received shows such as Franklin and Bash, Commander In Chief, and Raising The Bar. Tiffani Thiessen stepped from one juggernaut directly into another, joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 for four years before hitting a slump and eventually returning in the likes of Fast Lane, White Collar, and Jake And The Neverland Pirates. Dustin Diamond stayed with the show which made him famous, returning for The New Class before embarking on various other endeavours including celeb reality shows, wrestling promotions, as well as playing himself in various series. After various straight to TV movies and appearances as himself, Mario Lopez has made a name for himself as a TV host in his own right, hosting the likes of America’s Best Dance Crew, and The X Factor. Elizabeth Berkley aimed for movie stardom, hitting the limelight infamously in Showgirls and although time has reevaluated that film in a more positive light, Berkley has since garnered praise for theatre and TV work and appeared in works such as Any Given Sunday, The First Wives Club, and Step It Up And Dance. Lark Voorhies has had recurring performances in The Bold And The Beautiful, as well as In The House and a number of small movies, while Dennis Haskins has popped up in a bunch of minor movies and TV series.

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And yet, for all the work that the cast have went on to they will always be Baysiders to me –  something to look forward to on the day that I dreaded, something to enjoy before the routine of homework and church and knowing the school week was about to begin again, so eternal thanks from me to thee. What are your memories of Saved By The Bell? Were you a fan or were you one of those strange kids who didn’t watch it? Who was your favourite character, and which of the copy and paste shows did you also watch. Let us know in the comments!

Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Super Specs

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Welcome back to the campfire, boys and girls. Come closer, the fire’s fine and we’re just about to tell another tale. Take a seat, there’s no point standing over there in the shadows by yourself. That’s it, get comfy. Today’s story is one of those good old harmless voyeuristic stories that boys love to think about – what would you do if you were invisible? What would you do if you could stop time but still move around? What would you do if you had X Ray Specs? Naturally the immediate answers are both perverted and criminal but as this is a kids show I don’t think we’ll be peering into crowds of young women to see what’s underneath, or camping outside the bedroom of the object of your desire. Here’s what we will be doing:

In a junky magic shop Weeds, a wimpy trickster, jokingly casts the spell of ‘Second Sight’ with the help of a DIY voodoo book. Some magic dust accidentally falls on MaryBeth, his more sophisticated girlfriend, and on a pair of ‘Super Specs’, guaranteed to give X Ray vision.

But before we get that far, we get a unique look at our campfire weirdos by daylight, as we open on Gary and Kristin messing around in Gary’s dad’s magic/novelty shop. You know the sort of place – usually only ever found in beach-side towns, only open during the summer months, and filled with all manner of pranks, gags, props, and toys from playing cards to whoopie cushions, from spiders petrified in sugar cubs to curling lumps of plastic shit. Gary explains that this is where he gets his ideas from while Kristen says that people have been saying his stories have not been scary recently. It seems he needs to up his game. And so we cut to Gary’s introduction  of a story about magic and the people who either believe, don’t, or should. Weeds (America) is an incompetent magician who has just started going out with MaryBeth and on their latest romantic outing have purchased a pile of crap for April Fool’s Day in a magic shop run by the sardonic Sardo. I’ve never understood why anyone would actually buy X ray Specs, at least other gags in these shops have a purpose. I’ve had many an hour of fun with fart gas, whoopie cushion, and in school we even had a bit of a sneezing powder racket going for a few months until there was some sort of medical mishap and someone got expelled. Pranks from that point on were more subtle, such as everyone swinging their ties over the left shoulder, or the good old ‘lock your class inside the gymnasium and set fire to it’ stunt.

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MaryBeth puts on a pair of super specs and seems to see a shadowy figure lurking in the background, but she takes off the specs and thinks no more about it. Weeds meanwhile makes his way around school putting drugs into the food of young girls – hilarious! He also puts one of those jumbo fists into a locker which flops out gently grazes the nasal area of another poor victim. The guy’s non reaction to this unfortunate event is similar to how your facial expression may change when you flip a page in a book, making it all the more bizarre when Weeds runs up, laughing and saying ‘you should have seen your face’. This time MaryBeth sees someone in a Burka when she wears the Specs. I do like the idea – it has a creepy vibe more close to something like It Follows or The Eye than They Live. The soundtrack has some strange moments too, with synthesized beats like a lighter Carpenter piece. Like many stories of old, no matter how MaryBeth tries to get rid of the specs, they keep finding their way back to her, and the more she wears them, the more she seems to see things that aren’t there. Or is the world when wearing the specs the real one? We embark on a creepy first person walk through her house where she is stalked by three black-clothes wearing spooks which seem to be getting closer to her the more she wears the specs. Curiosity aside, time has shows that these things cannot harm her if she isn’t wearing the specs, so the solution is pretty easy – don’t put them on, everyone wins!

MaryBeth goes back to Sardo, they work out that Weeds messed around with a spell which somehow got fused with the specs which is allowing some cross-dimensional banter. Sardo weasels his way in to helping the kids, and into their homes, and he begins to cast a spell to counter what has happened. Unfortunately the spell fully opens the gateway and the creatures flood through to our world without a need for a spec-wearing conduit before shit goes full Dali. We close on a twist ending and Gary wins back his crowd. It’s an interesting story that could have had more creepy moments if they’d focused on the main story instead of cutting back to Weeds and his escapades. Plenty of good ideas here though which should have any imaginative kid asking questions of their own reality and filling them with inspiration for similar stories.

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Lets take a look at the cast and what they have been up to. Eugene Byrd (Weeds) has had a very successful career, starting out in the mid 80s and working on hit series today. Before AYAOTD he had been a recurring guest on The Cosby Show and went on to star in Chris Cross before moving on to adult roles in movies and shows such as Bones and Arrow. On the flip side, Graidhne Lelieveld-Amiro (MaryBeth) only has one further credit to her name – a single episode of a TV series called The Mystery Files Of Shelby Woo. Long-term fans of AYAOTD will know that Richard Dumont’s Sardo is a recurring character throughout the series, coming back to another seven episodes over the years. Dumont has had a long career primarily as a voice actor throughout a string of cartoons starting in the early 80s as well as making his way over to Video Game voicing, in things such as Mysterious Cities Of Gold, Beyblade, and the Assassin’s Creed series. The rest of the performers in the episode have much smaller roles, including friends of Weeds and MaryBeth – Patty (Carol Anne Gascon), Katherine (Annette Bouzi), and Mark (Errol Tennenbaum) – none of these three appear to have another credit to their names. Without spoiling anything, in the twist ending we have three more performers – Paul-Emile Frappier, Tarah Anick, and Rachelle Glait. Glait would appear in an upcoming AYAOTD episode, as well as movies including The Day After Tomorrow and Who Is KK Downey while Frappier appeared sporadically in TV shows through the 70s – 90s including The Littlest Hobo and Goosebumps before dropping off the map. Anick does not have another credit to her name.

Overall then, a promising episode with a good premise and ending which doesn’t quite scare enough as it should, but should play a trick on younger viewers nevertheless. For more reviews, 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

Next up we’ll be staying in the world of magic with The Tale Of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Sweet Dreams!

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Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Dark Music

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Greetings, Glancers. Now that Amazon are imminently going to hike their ‘DVD by Post’ prices, it may be time for me to cancel my subscription. As it’s a devious turn by them I may also cancel my streaming subscription, which means no more (legal) access to AYAOTD. And that means no more posts in this series, unless Netflix picks up the show. Then again, I can probably find most of the episodes on Youtube. My first post about AYAOTD was three years ago and I’ve only covered a few episodes since then, so I should have no complaints, but I’ll try to watch another bunch and get my thoughts down before I cancel my subscription.

Today’s episode features some of my favourite things – horror, obviously, and heavy metal. Lets take a look at the blurb:

Andy Carr and his family have just moved into their uncle’s old house, which they inherited. While helping his mum unpack, he descends into the creepy basement where he hears strange noises. Although his sister accuses him of being afraid of the dark, it is actually the Dark Music which makes his worst nightmares come true.

As soon as I read the blurb I thought the Dark Music was going to be some sort or experimental rumbling (the sort of which I make on my exceptionally worthless Youtube channel: Sorry) or generic heavy metal. I was right. But before we get there, the episode opens with the usual banter, this time focussing on hard lad Frank freaking out with Eric for leaving him to trudge through the forest in the middle of the night by himself. It’s that old trope that every tough guy character has a hidden, silly fear – it’s why there’s so little crime, war, hate in the world because behind every hard ass is a little sissy. While all this is fun and games, should kids really be wandering through woods in the dark by themselves? I know I did, so we’ll let it slide. It turns out that Frank is afraid of the dark, finally answering the question posed by the show’s title. Coincidentally, our protagonist Andy (a normal name, way to go America!) is also afraid of the no-light. In the spoken intro he seems like a good kid on hard times, with divorced parents (possibly absent – nope, there’s one hiding behind some boxes) and other assorted bad luck. However it looks like it has all turned out for the best as an uncle has died and left them a large suburban house. Everybody wins!

Andy crashes into the neighbourhood bully – you can tell he’s scary and bad because he wears skull t-shirts, has long hair, and loud guitars screech any time he appears on screen. I never grew up in America, but in my experience metal kids were the outcasts or the people who simply didn’t care what others were doing or thinking, and had no interest in interfering with them. I should know as I was one. I don’t think I ever met a bully or tough guy who knew anything about metal, and in my limited experience the bullies I saw were all entitled or naturally large or clearly had something not quite right with their brains. Anyway, he seems to be pissed because Andy and his family have moved next door and are related to someone he is happy has died. Maybe the uncle was creepy, or smelly, or an ISIS.

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ISIS were a pretty great metal band though

 

Speaking of vagaries, neither Andy nor his mother actually knew this uncle. Andy never met him and his mum last saw him when she was a child. So why would he leave his home to them? Were they his only remaining relatives? We get a brief look at Andy’s annoying sister and confirm that the acting in this episode isn’t great. The scene in the basement is creepy enough, moody, dark, quiet, and we get an old timey radio and half expect Orson Welles to come booming from it. When Andy finds a radio station with metal (is this the Dark Music?) a creepy locked door opens behind him and the least threatening voice ever wafts out from beneath two glowing red eyes. If a murderer had his blade to your baby’s throat and began to speak in that voice, you would kind calmly remove the blade from his grasp, take back the child, and usher him softly out of the house lest his face feel the wrath of your bruising slaps whose force would be greatly diminished by your giggles.

So not only does the uncle leave his home to relations he didn’t know, but he leaves them a Haunted House? That’s kind of a dick move. Did Andy’s mum (or her parents) perform some slight against the uncle that we’re not aware of. I’d only give a haunted house to my enemy.  Also, Uncle Niles? Did we hear anyone say his name was Niles before the Campfire Interlude? Are people actually called Niles? Is this him?

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Frank has done a runner from the rest of the campfire group, possibly to return in the form of a jump scare. Back with Andy, Christine, and oblivious Mom and we get an interesting scene of Andy inexplicably throwing his newspaper at the bully metal neighbour. I don’t think anyone would have that much on their mind that they would completely miss their personal bully sitting on the doorstep of the house they were delivering a newspaper to, but hey ho. At least we find out that the bully’s dad is Hulk Hogan, which probably explains one or two things.

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The Beetlejuice trousers are left unexplained

The kid playing Andy looks familiar, like an unbegotten twin of Nick Stahl. Another question – how did Andy get a paper round job when it looks like he moved in to the house the same day he was doing the job? Anyway, we get some more information on Uncle Niles – he miraculously became wealthy but was never popular with anyone due to his oddness. During this delightful reminiscence we see Andy’s less than incredible talent for art, and Christine’s bizarre girl gamer skills. That ain’t no Xbox she’s playing either. I have no idea what she’s doing with that game pad, but she doesn’t appear to be pressing any buttons and instead wringing it between her hands. This is followed by another basement scene with some truly epic guitar. It takes an exceedingly creepy turn though thanks to the appearance of a talking doll who wants Andy to come play with him. Experience teaches us that all talking dolls must be burned on sight.

It seems that for some reason music is causing, or otherwise linked to, spooky goings on in the basement and to the episode’s credit these scenes are generally very well done. Certainly a younger kid will be scared by these and even the target audience of the show should have felt some chills by the weirdo circus man/skeletor jump scare. I’m not sure what the message here is – music is evil? Andy works it out, gets fisted by the bully, and decides to take revenge by locking the bully in the basement. I’m not sure what the message here is – kill all bullies? Also, if I was in a basement and someone cranked up the metal I’d probably just start headbanging, not scream and run around terrified. At least not before the monsters came from the scary room.

We finally get a Hellraiser-esque resolution and a spontaneous dark ending (followed immediately by a kid friendly cop-out) before returning to the wraparound where Eric is left by the dying campfire, alone in the dark. FRANK JUMPSCARE!

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Wrong Frank

 

It’s an unusual episode in that it raises a lot of questions of which few are answered, it’s morally ambiguous for a kid’s show, and it tries to pack too much into the early stages without actually advancing the plot. It should really have been characters-spooky house-spooky things happen and get worse-we find out why-ending, instead of all the other crap. Having said that, it does the few basement scenes well, but needed to spend more time focussing on those and found a way to deal with the plot without the need for an annoying sister and neighbour.

As always, we end with a look at what the episode’s performers have been up to. Graham Selkirk is okay as Andy – I’d said before that the acting was poor in this episode and it mostly is. But everyone does their job with minimal fuss and without too much embarrassment. Selkirk’s performance here seems to be the only credit to his name. I often wonder what happens to these kids who presumably go through a gruelling, possibly luck-based vetting and audition process, to finally earn a spot, and then vanish from the face of the business without another single performance. The sister makes her second AYAOTD dark appearance, though here she is mostly invisible, ironic as her first appearance was as the Ghost in The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost. I remember she did well in that episode, and here she is convincingly annoying. She only has a few more unremarkable TV credits to her name. Rounding off the family is Kathryn Graves, whose appearance as the mother is her sole credit. I’m beginning to think the director simply picked random people off the street for this episode. Or maybe he was their uncle.

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Leif Anderson plays the bully, Koda (America) and has had plenty of work on a variety of TV shows and movies – nothing major, but has appeared in the likes of Storm Of The Century, I’m Not There, and On The Road. Ian MacDonald, as Koda’s dad has likewise had sporadic appearances in minor films which I’ve never heard of and the final two performers Fofi Tsatas and AJ Henderson as the Doll and the Circus Man respectively are polar opposites – Fofi has no more credits while AJ is a respected voice actor appearing in many series including The Mysterious Cities Of Gold, Young Robin Hood, Arthur and an upcoming episode of AYAOTD.

Let us know what you thought of this episode in the comments, and don’t forget to check my other AYAOTD reviews elsewhere on the site:

Nightly Neighbours     Captured Soul     Prom Queen     Hungry Hounds

Twisted Claw     Lonely Ghost     Laughing Dark    Phantom Cab

Next time around we’ll be making a mockery of my pseudo-heritage in The Tale Of Jake And The Leprechaun. Sweet Dreams!

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