Neighbours – Bonus Post 4

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Well. That’s all over with. The ‘Dee’ storyline has come and gone, wrecking numerous relationships and apparently pissing off a lot of viewers. I found it all desperately sad and was holding out for some miracle that fake Dee was real Dee in the end. Alas. Presumably Dee/Andrea or the kid will come back in the future, but for now they are gone and Toadie is a hundred grand poorer and has been thrown out for slipping one in.

Elsewhere, we’ve had the revelation of who Leo and David’s father is and the associated fallout, Brad and Lauren left, and Toadie’s brother Shane and his family have moved in to the street. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here so I can drone on for a while about some of my favourite residents, past and/or present, and today we’ve reached the letter KAY. And that can only mean one thing – MISTER….. KENNEDYYYYYY!……………. KENNEDYYY (Anderson). Wha?

Billy Kennedy – Jesse Spencer (1994 – 2000, 2005)

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Significant Others: The Kennedy Family. Anne Wilkinson. Melissa Drenth. Caitlin Atkins. Toadie. Lance. Amy.

Billy was arguably the central figure of The Kennedy family when he first arrived, his friendships and romances a focal point for many years. He was good looking, a little naive, was always getting into trouble even though his heart was in the right place, and his friendship with Toadie and Lance became a major draw, along with the other core members. It was however his on again off again romance with Anne Wilkinson that kept viewers intrigued – the closest thing to a Scott and Charlene that the show had in the 90s.

Special Power: Grows cabbages under his fingernails.

Where Are They Now:

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Billy left with Anne in 2000 and subsequently got married and had three kids – a new generation of Kennedys to appear in the future no doubt, hopefully not after Anne and Billy divorce. Billy appeared in the 2005 20th Anniversary show, strolling along a beach in LA. That’s because Jessie Spencer landed a hot job in the US – main role in House, followed up by a starring role in Chicago Fire, which sounds like an American London’s Burning. 

Libby Kennedy – Kym Valentine (1994 – 2014)

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Significant Others: The Kennedys, Drew Kirk, Ben Kirk, The Kinskis, Darren Stark, Daniel Fitzgerald. Steph Scully. Taj Coppin.

It’s fair to say that Libby is one of, if not my favourite Neighbours character. Bad ass all around. Her introduction greatly pleased my adolescent self, thanks to her assets. She was smart, feisty, yet always got involved with the wrong man. All until Drew came along and she finally felt settled. Till he was killed by a horse. Of course. Libby became a teacher, following her mum’s footsteps, and drama continued to follow her until she began a series of departures from the show – first in 2005, returning in 2007, and popping back and forth until 2014 where it appears she has left for good. I missed many of those last years after I stopped watching around 2007 or 2008.

Special Power: Breasts

Where Are They Now:

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Kym Valentine has sadly had several health issues in the last few years which contributed to her leaving the show. Of all the characters I’d want to see ending up happy, whether that means in a stable relationship or whatever, I’d love to see her coming back to reach that dream as Kym does such a great job in the role. There’s always a chance she’ll be back of course, given that Libby’s teenage son Ben is in the show now while she is teaching in China. Fingers crossed!

Mal Kennedy – Benjamin McNair (1994 – 2014)

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Significant Others: The Kennedys, Danni Stark, Stonefish, Catherine O’Brien.

There are many rumours and suggestions for the origins of my nickname – Mal – it’s part of my name, it’s Latin (etc) for evil, and because people knew I was a Neighbours fan back in the day and thought it was funny to call me this after one of its characters. Anyway, Mal was never a major figure, at least to me, in the show – he was the one Kennedy with the less interesting plots and the least screen time, so it seemed. Still, he’s a familiar face and has popped back every so often, typically with some new personality traits, and he’s alive and well so can return again at any point.

Special Power: Can swivel his pelvis 360 degrees.

Where Are They Now:

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He left after three years and it looked like he wouldn’t be back. Then he came back in 2002, his mischievous ways replaced by a ruthless, money-driven ego. Since then he was been away and been back several times, never staying longer than a few months. He and Catherine are still together in London now, both successful business types or something.

Karl Kennedy – Alan (1994 – Present)

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Significant Others: The Kennedys, The Kinskis, Sarah Beaumont, Darcy, Izzy, Ben Kirk, Holly Hoyland, pretty much everyone on the show for the last 20 odd years.

The legend. The daddy of the show’s longest running stable (sort of) family, Dr Kennedy, a some time singer, womanizer, and tight-wad, Karl has had several spicy affairs, fights with his kids and their partners, brushes with death, law suits, and everything else. But he’s still standing, and now acts, along with Susan, as the show’s emotional, nostalgic, and humourous core, like Harold and Lou before. That’s not to say he doesn’t still get his fair share of interesting stories, but more often now Karl is there to put a smile on your face or a laugh on your… feet? We’ve known him for so long now, he is Neighbours. 

Special Power: Obscene limericks.

Where Are They Now:

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Still on the show! 23 years now, and still going strong.

Susan Kennedy – Jackie Woodburn (1994 – Present)

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Significant Others: See Karl’s entry (matron)

The other legend. I’ll be honest, I had a crush on Susan too. Maybe it was some adolescent fantasy that, while I was more interested in Libby I didn’t think she would ever like me so I’d have a crack at her ma instead (never mind the fact that we were thousands of miles apart and they were fictional characters). Fun fact – I did eventually have a Maths teacher who looked an awful lot like her, though I did not have a crack at her. Fun fact 2 – I did have a crack at her daughter though – more than a crack in fact. MUCH MORE. Susan has seen and done it all in her years on the show – she has been teacher and Headmistress at Erinsborough High for decades now and has had her fair share of sexual escapades. She did a Twin Peaks, losing her memory and thinking she was 16, she has had to put up with Karl’s cheating and singing since the 70s, and has been through surrogacy and health scare storylines often being the character who most honestly depicts difficult real life plots.

Special Power: Her long black hair isn’t gone – it’s hiding in her tear ducts and it can be spooled out at a moment’s notice and used to garrote unsuspecting visitors.

Where Are They Now:

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Also still on the show, and still with Karl, and still in the School, and still taking on strays and family members such as Ben, Elly, and Angus. This pair and Toadie and Steph are my main ties to my peak viewing period so long may they continue!

How many more of these things will I write? To find out, keep coming back for more – it’s torture! Feel free to add your thoughts about The Kennedy family or any of the other Neighbours characters in the comments below.

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.

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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.

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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.

Neighbours – Bonus Post 3

So, Dee is back, and it’s all as weird and convoluted as you would expect. 2 things:

  1. Why not just go for the ‘I banged my head, half-drowned, and lost my memory’ rather than all of the other guff Dee said before actually getting to that point. Obviously they’re setting her up for future conflict, secrets, and stories.
  2. I was disappointed by the lack of emotion in the reunion scenes – Toadie, Susan, Karl, Steph – this was someone you LOVED and someone you thought was DEAD. I don’t care how many years have passed, you’re going to be in floods of tears. Of course there’s more to come so we’ll see, but just those initial scenes weren’t what I was hoping for.

Oh yeah, another thing – I want to see some old friends coming back to see Dee, even if only for a handful of episodes or scenes. Make it happen.

Aside from that, i have enjoyed watching the comeback and it’ll make future episodes interesting. As a side note, I’m writing this on 1/31/17 and have not yet watched yesterday or today’s episode yet. I’ll try to finish and post ASAP. But enough of that, here are a few more of my favourite Neighbours characters!

Amy Greenwood –  Jacinta Stapleton – 1997 – 2000 (2005)

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Significant Others: Lance Wilkinson, Damien Smith, Anne Wilkinson, Toadie, Billy Kennedy

Ahh Amy, sexy, flirty, and a little bit dumb, Amy gave hope to all hopeless nerds and romantics across the globe by loving resident geekazoid Lance. She arrived with her mum and brothers who all left the show inside a matter of months, leaving Amy to navigate the perils of Ramsey Street with her friends. She was there during my peak watching period/favourite watching time and so was part of the core Ramsey Street teen group, getting up to the usual fun and games, notably her on and off relationship with Lance and for preparing the blokes for the Full Monty show.

Special Power: Tricking people into believing she is a time-travelling Madonna.

Where Are They Now:

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She returned for the 20th Anniversary Show and appeared in Annalise’s documentary – and although still working as a flight attendant and still married, she gave Lance (who was watching) a special mention – one of my favourite moments of that episode. As for Jacinta, she’s still a regular on Australian TV and movies but I haven’t seen any of them.

Annalise Hartman – Kimberley Davies – 1993 – 1996 (2005)

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Significant Others – Sam Kratz, Joanna Hartman, Mark Gottleib, Beth Brennan, Lou Carpenter.

Speaking of Annalise – here she is! Another glamour Queen for Erinsborough, Annalise was a favourite of men on and off the show, making a significant enough impression in her three years to warrant her return for the 20th Anniversary show as a focal point. A typical blonde bombshell (a phrase I’ve never really understood), she had a million jobs, survived a plane crash, got it on with almost every bloke on the street, and got jilted on her wedding day. There’s probably a lot I don’t remember about her period on the show, but I was pleased to see her come back.

Special Power: Immune to orc poison

Where Are They Now:

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As you know, she became some sort of film-maker and came back to document Ramsey Street and its people for the 20th Anniversary. After that, I’ve no idea. Kimberley Davies made guest appearances on some pretty big shows – Friends, Ally McBeal etc and has also appeared in various reality shows.

Boyd Hoyland – Kyal Marsh – 2002 – 2007

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Significant Others: Max Hoyland, Izzy Hoyland, Summer Hoyland, the other Hoylands, Steph Scully, Sky Mangel, Janae Timmins, Kayla Thomas.

Ah yes, Boy. Yes, I called him Boy. I always made fun of Boy because he always seemed like a bit of a tool in his early days, but I still liked him. As time went on, he was still kind of a tool, but always wanted to help people and was generally a good guy. I was a big fan of the Hoylands and was hoping they would stick around but around the time I stopped watching it was clear they were on their way out too. Reportedly Boyd was unhappy with some of the later relationship stories the Producers gave him, hastening his departure. He did have some good stories, acting as a surrogate father, getting on steroids, and developing schizophrenia. He was always protective of his sister and even though he was always butting heads with Max, it was clear they loved each other too.

Special Powers: Superior upper arm strength

Where Are They Now:

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After splitting up with Janae, Boyd deciding to leave with Sky. I know Steph has mentioned Max since I started watching the show again late last year, but I’m not sure if Boyd has been mentioned. Kyal Marsh quite acting after leaving the show, like so many others, but did appear in and win Circque de Celebrite. I’ve no idea what he’s at now.

Izzy Hoyland – Natalie Bassingthwaighte (WTF) – 2003 – 2007

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Significant Others – The Hoylands, Karl Kennedy, Darcy Tyler, Paul Robinson

The arch-schemer of the show, Izzy was a whirlwhind in her time on the show. I can’t say I ever really liked her character  – how could you – but she invigorated the show and caused trouble wherever she went. Her most significant moments were with Karl and Susan and Darcy, as she pretended Karl was the father of her unborn daughter. Later on it is revealed that Karl fathered a different child with her – Holly – who has apparently been in the show too. Her and Darcy marked the most scheme/wicked period in the show’s history.

Special Powers – Her lies can turn you to stone.

Where Are They Now

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Currently faffing around somewhere – sent her daughter Holly to leave with Karl and Susan for a while in 2013, but didn’t show up herself. Natalie has had a successful career outside of Neighbours as both a solo singer and as part of a group with various gold and platinum singles and albums – I don’t believe I’ve heard any of her stuff. She has also been a TV Presenter, Judge, and appeared in a few movies.

Max Hoyland – Stephen Lovatt – 2002 -2007

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Significant Others: The Hoylands, Steph Scully, The Robinson family

Good old Max – he always seemed stressed and in truth there was usually always something stressful happening to him or his family. Whether it be keeping tabs on his kids and looking out for the sister that everyone hated, or trying to keep his realationship with Steph going while dealing with the Robinson’s scheming (fair enough after he killed Paul’s innocent son thinking it was his evil twin… I know I know), Max had a tough life. But Max was a good father and always loyal, and hopefully after he departed for Fiji his life has been easier.

Special Power – Misfortune

Where Are They Now – Max left in 2007 after splitting with Steph and later got sole custody of their son. He’s still in Fiji and every so often Steph mentions calling him to talk with Charlie. It seems unlikely he’ll return now as Steph and him have moved on. Stephen Lovatt is a respected theatre actor who has also appeared in a variety of TV shows and movies, from Xena Warrior Princess to Ash Vs Evil Dead!

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Summer Hoyland – Marisa Siketa (2002-2007) and Jordy Lucas (2010-2013)

Significant Others: The Hoylands, Steph Scully, Andrew Robinson

Oh man, it would have been sweet if Marisa had returned to play Summer – that may have been enough to make me tune in back in 2010. Summer was mature beyond her years, conniving, and highly annoying, but occasionally sweet as time went on. I never saw anything of her second stint on the show so I don’t know how different her character or the portrayal was. You couldn’t help but like her, even when she was annoying as hell, thanks to Siketa’s performance.

Special Powers: Cries chocolate tears.

Where Are They Now:

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She left the show for the second time and headed for Paris. I’m sure her scholarship there is over, so it’s a ripe time for her to make another appearance in the show. Of all the Hoyland family, it’s Max and Boyd I’d love to see come back, but Summer and Izzy are the more likely options. Siketa was a child actress in Saddle Club and other shows but has since – you’ve guessed it – retired from acting and is now a traffic reporter on Radio. Jordy Lucas has had minor appearances in shows and movies I’ve never heard of.

I’ll only do a few more of these posts, I promise! Let us know in the comments what you thought of any of these characters!

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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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 Watch – The Walking Dead

*Note – at time of writing the show was in its mid season break. Now that I’m returning to the post the same season has finished and I’ve added a bonus paragraph!

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Greeting, Glancers! It was inevitable, wasn’t it? My love of horror, apocalypse scenarios, TV, zombies – of course I was going to watch The Walking Dead, and of course I was going to love it. And of course I was going to include it in the Sh*t I Watch series. It should be noted though that I have not yet read the comics, though I hope to some day once they are cheap or someone gives me more money or an apocalypse comes and I can wander in to Forbidden Planet and take them free of charge. That’s what we all really want to see and dream about when we watch a show like this – the complete freedom to go and do as we please, no job, no responsibility, no future, our only care being how to survive.

Not Right

I won’t get into why this sort of thing is so cherished by people suffice to say that it has always been something I’ve fantasized about from an early age; all the usual questions – which weapon to use, where to live, how to travel, who to trust, what sort of person you should be – a lone warrior wading through the wasteland and killing zombies as you go, a trader who moves between settlements passing on information and supplies, part of an elite military or rescue group, hoard yourself with your family and only sneak outside when absolutely necessary, a peacemaker and builder who tries to bring society back from the brink? The possibilities are both endless and endlessly cliched, but it’s so easy to lose yourself in daydreams.

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‘And then I’d steal their weapons and eat their children… good times’

For my part, I don’t think the perfect zombie or apocalypse show has been made, though I love so many movies, books, and games which base themselves around similar ideas. I Am Legend and The Stand are my two favourite books of all time; Romero’s Dead trilogy are among my most loved movies of all time; since as far back as I can remember, the stories I have been most drawn to have involved some sort of survival against the odds, either a journey back to civilization, or the survival against its breakdown – all going back to when I first read The Odyssey in Primary School, along with all the other assorted heroic journey myths. I bought The Zombie Survival Guide the first day it was released, having had it pre-ordered for months. I wrote a draft script for my own TV series based around a zombie apocalypse years before The Walking Dead was developed. If I’m ever walking alone (which is most days) my thoughts invariably drift to questions like ‘how would I escape if I was surrounded in this street’ and ‘what would be the best way to travel to and from the city from here’. I have gone so far as printing out detailed Google Maps of the places I’ve lived and covered them in coloured lines to signify borders and barricades to build,filling them with notes on where the best place to live would be and how to divide survivors into teams to move from house to house, building to building, street to street taking out corpses and barricading the area to make it as safe as possible. In short, I am not right. What’s cool (and disturbing) though is how many people are the same. If friendly conversation in a group somehow turns to this topic, there is always, always at least one other person who is similarly intrigued by the whole thing and has spent hours obsessively pondering. Hopefully all this has set the scene for why, even though I sometimes scream at the TV for how boring and repetitive The Walking Dead can be, I wholehearted love it and forgive its flaws.

Swallowed Whole

If you somehow don’t know, The Walking Dead follows a group (or groups) of survivors in a world where society has collapsed due to a zombie outbreak. In grand zombie tradition the reasons for the outbreak are never explained and our lead character, Rick, missed most of the initial carnage. Waking in a hospital days after the world has essentially ended, a la The Day Of The Triffids, 28 Days Later, The Stand, etc etc, Rick seems to be the last person alive surrounded by flesh eating ‘Walkers’. Over time we find out that plenty of people have survived, including Rick’s family, friends, and other assorted goodies and baddies. Each series sees new characters introduced, old characters slaughtered, and plenty of human drama offset by scares, action, and horrific and delicious violence. Where The Walking Dead scores more highly over other recent shows that I watch is that it makes me care about the characters – I love some, I despise others, and the ones I am ambivalent about usually don’t last more than a few episodes. The characters feel real and you can understand the actions 0f even the most crazed or most evil, though there have been plenty of moments where you are confident that a certain character would never behave in a certain way based on what we have previously been shown. There isn’t a lot of humour, and in recent seasons the atmosphere has become almost unrelentingly bleak and tense as beloved characters are killed off with or without warning, and every glimmer of hope is swallowed whole.

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Uh oh

There’s a valid argument that this show and other fiction like it fails to take into account that most humans are essentially good, want to survive, and understand instinctively that to survive we need to live in packs and work together towards a common goal. Too often in this sort of show are there people only looking out for themselves and who will terrorize and murder everyone in sight if they don’t bend the knee or simply get in their way. Whether or not this would happen in reality is hard to say – history has shown that we’ve only got to where we are today by forming societies and ensuring that those things which harm the group are punished, those things which prevent us from losing our humanity are cast out. But of course, the most interesting characters are always the outcasts, rebels, and misfits and there wouldn’t be much drama if we focused solely on rebuilding and avoiding the dead – we’re only happy when we’re filled with dread or grief. In The Walking Dead there are moments which show how our main characters wrestle with the notion of humanity, frequently turning into animals themselves to survive or get what they want. Several have come close to ‘stepping over the edge’ and therefore losing their humanity. The problem may be that each series there is a bad guy or bad element for dramatic purposes who rarely crosses the line into humanity – we know they are evil from the moment we see them and that there is no hope for them. To the show’s credit, it recognizes this fact and does its damnedest to try to make these bad guys more human, but as a smart audience we understand that the twain cannot meet, and that TV demands our characters to remain stalwart and true against the baddies.

Throwaway Evil

I can’t speak for what Negan is like at this point, but lets look at the ‘big bads’ we’ve had so far. We’ve had Merle – essentially a psychopath, lines blurred by the fact that he is the brother of another character, Darryl. We’ve had Shane  – Rick’s best friend and the man who basically takes over looking after Rick’s family. As the series progress he feels like he is losing control and influence within the group and wants Lori (Rick’s wife) for himself, eventually resorting to cowardice and malice and murder. We’ve had The Governor, a self-placed leader of a successful community who seems like a saviour on the surface, but is ruthless underneath  – there are few real attempts at blurring the lines with him until a few brief moments after the collapse of Woodbury where it seems he could be human after all, but these don’t last long. We’ve had The Claimers – roving bandits whose loose set of rules is that whoever ‘claims’ something gets to keep it – throwaway evil. We had the people from Terminus – inviting survivors to an idyllic place only to execute and eat them, again they seem nice on the surface but are killers underneath with little attempt to blur the lines. The best and most frustrating attempt to blur this line is with the Policewoman Dawn, who rules Grady Memorial hospital. She genuinely wants to build a better world, but she allows her need for control get the better of her – she believes in upholding the law, but allows her men to rape and steal and hurt, she essentially turns the hospital into a prison demanding the most useful people to stay and help. She is shown to have good intentions but is also shown to be too cold and doesn’t get the character development needed to make us question whether the things she did were for the benefit of society or not. After she is dispatched, a large group of survivors decide to continue what she planned, but supposedly without resorting to inhuman activity – I wonder if we’ll see them again.

(Update since mid-Season: Season 6 to me had a major focus on this blurring of good and evil, with Rick and the gang frequently being seen by others as being the bad guys, or recklessly dangerous to the point that us the viewers will have been hard pressed to disagree with such notions. There is not simply a sense of performing awful acts to survive, but rather that they are going out of their way to kill because there might be a threat. They have become so deluded by their own confidence that when Negan finally makes his appearance in the final moments, his group has toyed so easily with Rick’s group as to make them seem like amateurs struggling within an ever-tightening noose.)

There are plenty of other examples of more minor bad guys (again notably the Doctor at Grady who seems like a good person but is killing certain patients for his own survival) and those who are simply canon fodder. But enough talk of such things, lets talk about what we really care about – guns, swords, and gore!

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Yum

We may stay for the drama, but we came for the blood. The Walking Dead raised the bar for depictions of violence on TV and has superb effects throughout thanks to genre legend Greg Nicotero and his crew of wizards. There is so much work and love put into the practical effects, the make up, and even the CG, that it is a joy for gore fiends like me. Even the most static episode will have an obligatory chunk bitten from an arm or headshot etc, but we go truly overboard with all manner of kills, injuries, and gruesome creatures on various states of rot. The sets and locations are suitably barren and reflect an America sickened and on its knees, however I am getting a little tired of the same scenery over and over – those leaf strewn roads and those same forests. I’d love a little more variety, and that’s why I’d love further spin offs showing survivors from around America, from around the world – beach zombies, mountain zombies, a last stand around Chichen Itza, tribes or roaming survivors in Africa, Australia, all keeping away from the cities – and of course why not some cities themselves – a group of scared politicians or officials holed up in suburbia, or a bunker, or in a palace or millionaire’s mansion? I haven’t watched any of the spin-off show Fear The Walking Dead yet, but I understand it takes place in another US city and deals more with the lead up to and immediate aftermath of the outbreak. All I’m saying is that there is still room for other ideas and people and places before it all becomes too saturated and silly.

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While the dialogue is peppered with inspirational speeches it’s not exactly the most quote-worthy show. There is a lot of introspection and there are a lot of arguments. Nevertheless, the show is well written and packs in plenty of surprises and shocks, though it’s clear those are on the wane. There isn’t a lot of humour and there isn’t a lot of love – when there is it usually doesn’t last. The show follows in the tradition of Buffy and Game Of Thrones by placing a lot of its ability to scare the viewer into us knowing that any character can be killed off at any time. There have been some rumblings recently though that the show has lost its bite and is now too scared to kill off one of the key players – a Rick, a Darryl for example. We’ve seen several main characters apparently be killed only for them to be miraculously resurrected which has pissed off quite a few people. The show does still have a high death count, not just bad guys and zombies,  but recurring cast members. If you make it through a couple of Seasons as an actor you’re bound to feel both lucky and wary that your days are numbered. We know someone from the main group died at Negan’s hands in the Season 6 finale, but we don’t know who. There are plenty of disposable characters, but we all have our favourites. My main issue at the moment is that the format does seem to be running thin – survivors find a new place to hide and live, a new human threat emerges, the threat must be overcome, usually at the expense of the place they were living and a few new characters. Rinse and repeat. I was excited by the prospect of the road trip to DC as that gave the show a different direction, a different endgame and purpose, but it fizzled out. We know the show will have to end some time, and I’m not advocating some pleasant answer where a cure is found and they all live happily ever after. I do think there needs to be an ending though, before the masses lose interest and they wrap it up in a lazy way. I’d be happy watching forever of course, guns and gore and zombies and I’ll watch. Even if it’s Zombie Nation, and that show is balls.

But I’ve rambled on long enough. I need to go check the barricades and make sure the surrounding streets are clear before it gets dark. Because they mostly come out at night. Mostly. Let us know your thoughts on The Walking Dead in the comments section – your favourite character, kill, and of course what you would do if, nay, when the zombies come.