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 Jake And the Leprechaun

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Greetings, glancers – or should I say ‘Top of the morning to ye, ya blarney kissin’, spud cuddlin’ paddy’. No, I probably shouldn’t say that. I am of the Irish persuasion though, not via the good old ‘my grandfather’s cousin’s sister’s brother is from Cork’ but via the fact that I was born in, and currently live there. Not Cork, not even the South, but the war-torn, dreaded frozen North.

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This place

So, if I was patriotic in any way or, you know, a dick, I could claim to have some sort of affinity with this episode. But I’m not, won’t, and don’t. Enough of the confusing half sense half sentences, lets see what the episode blurb tells us:

Jake, a young actor, has landed the lead role in ‘Will O’ The Wisp’, in which his character is slowed turned into a lepreachaun. Errin, the director and actor playing the leprechaun, seems to take an intense interest in Jake. A new-found friend, Sean, reveals to Jake that the events in the play are coming true! In the final performance the audience is in for the show of their lives.

Our first meta episode it seems. We have an odd, emotional opening where Frank’s story is replaced by one by Eric. Eric’s grandfather has died, and Eric explains how he was from Ireland and always used to tell stories from his homeland. This scene gives a chance for the cast to show their acting chops, sharing a different vibe than they usually do – they all do a pretty good job (though the attempts at accents are pretty bad). Worse though is the Leprechaun hat Eric whips out. Now, I’m not an expert but that ain’t no Leprechaun hat. Have these people never seen a Paddy’s Day parade? Have they never been to an Irish town, city or airport? It’s impossible to go any tourist spot on this island without being bombarded by garish greens and fluffy top hats.

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Not even our toilets are safe

Our story begins with a campy Peter Pan/Robin Hood style fight. This is the story within the story. We’re introduced to a lecherous old Irish man (little girl, you should watch yourself around that one) who seems to be the main actor/director of some sort of play. Jake is our hero, a kid who wants to be an actor but it having severe doubts over his own abilities. So far, everyone watching is sharing those doubts. With zero warning we are suddenly in a different scene making it difficult to understand if this is part of the story within the story, just the main story, or some sort of hallucination – has Jake fallen asleep or been transported into a parallel universe?

Here Jake meets Sean O’Shaney (of course) who appears to be some sort of mystical… gardener? I don’t know, but he sells drugs and cabbages and crap and Jake wants to buy a specific list of ingredients for Erin – the director. Again we get a series of weird cuts and transitions to further blur the line between fantasy and reality, and somewhere along the line there is a creepy voice saying it wants the boy’s soul. Sean recognises that the ingredients have the potential for evil when used together and tries to save Jake. Because he’s nice?

Aside from the uncertainty between fantasy and reality, there is an unsettling and unfortunate peado vibe, especially in the scenes where Erin is trying to encourage and sooth Jake. And ‘erbs? What the hell is ‘erbs? There’s an ‘H’ in the word, boy – use it! In case anyone is confused by this point in the episode, Jake handily explains the plot for us just in time for him to unleash a ‘ilarious ‘ome Alone scream, just like Macualay O’Culkin. Up to this point everything has happened with an unusual speed, little or no actual plot, instead a series of loosely connected scenes. We finally get a little bit of tension as Jake and Sean creep into Errin’s room, but this is offset but Errin’s ‘ilarious exit when the fire alarm is set off. I mean, he just gets up and runs right past the alarm and out the door even though there isn’t a trace of smoke or fire in the enclosed space. Why didn’t he have a quick look around and turn it off? Why does it look like someone has stapled 12 wigs to his back? I thought Banshees were women who foretold death?

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Beer. Beer does this.

We make it to the final showdown where again there is a fair bit of tension. It’s a bit of a risky plan turning a child into a leprechaun during a live performance in front of his (never seen) friends and family. This all builds up to an action packed ending, even with the bizarre panning shots of the crowd. I can see why this scene would creep plenty of kids out, but it seems too little too late. More hilarious cuts and shots follow (no idea why the audience haven’t totally freaked out by now) but it’s overall a poorly executed story, rushed and filled with too much junk, disappointing all the more because of the emotional intro.

Before we part, lets take a look at the cast who made up this missed opportunity. Benjamin Plener stars as young Jake, by and large giving a decent performance. Quite a prominent child actor and voice actor in his teens, Plener vanished off the radar in 2004 and doesn’t have any further credits to his name. Aside from voicing in Sailor Moon and appearing as part of the ensemble of hit show Ready Or Not, he appears in a later AYAOTD episode and three episodes of rival shows Goosebumps. Falling off the radar in more conclusive, and tragic fashion are the other two leads – John Dunn-Hill as Erin and David Steinberg as Sean. Hill died just months ago after a career spanning six decades where he appeared in many TV series and popped up in the odd blockbuster – you may know him from Secret Window, Omerta, or Z-Cars. Steinberg passed away in 2010 after appearing memorably in Willow and guesting on shows such as Ugly Betty and Zoey 101. Two other actors get a credit here – Jennifer Seguin as Lucy (who I assume was the girl that Erin was creeping on) and Frayne McCarthy as Carl, who I don’t remember at all. McCarthy has appeared in a number of TV movies and shorts over the years while Seguin has over 50 screen credits as actor and voice actor in TV, movies, and videogames like Mona The Vampire, the voice of the Animus in Assassin’s Creed and Caillou as well as popping up in a later AYAOTD episode.

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     Dark Music

Next time up we’ll be living every teenage boy’s dream as we slap on a pair of X Ray Specs and head to town in The Tale Of The Super Specs. Sweet Dreams!

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Sh*t I Watch – 35-sai no Koukousei (35歳の高校生) Back To School At 35

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s time for something a little different in the Sh*t I Watch/Used To Watch series as I talk about my love for the first J-Drama I’ve ever really watched. No Dropping Out – Back To School At 35 is as literal a title as you could imagine, as we follow a 35 year old woman who goes back to high school. Her reasons for doing this are briefly explored in the first episode, but her motives and her history are shrouded in mystery and it is only with each subsequent episode that we get a few tantalizing glimpses into why she does the things she does.

But before all that, why did I (and why should you) decide to watch this? As with anything, we’ll need to wander back down memory lane to my childhood. I’ve always had a fascination with Japan, but really this came about thanks to an earlier love of China. In my youth I was a big martial arts fan, and would watch any movie with nunchucks, fly-kicks, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and so on. When we went to the video store every week or so, my parents seemed pretty liberal about what we would select (as long as it didn’t seem like it would destroy us), which meant a lot of action movies, and whatever had a bad-ass cover. Man punching fist through wall? I’ll take that. Ninjas leaping around some high-tech fortress? Yoink. Anything that suggested a bloody tournament, fight to the death, or noble quest for vengeance? Mine, thank you. While all this led to plenty of ‘Don’t Try This At Home (until Mum and Dad aren’t looking)’ activities, it also gave me an appreciation for other cultures, and I was soon reading through my encyclopedias for sections about China, Hong-Kong, Japan and so on. Later I was introduced to Nintendo with my very first NES (then Gameboy, SNES etc) and I further realized that the world outside of my usual haunts, and of what I saw on terrestrial TV was much wider. Watching cartoons on TV I saw that most of the animators were Japanese. My favourite video games were Japanese. It made me wonder what else those guys could do – movies, books, TV, music. Flash-forward a decade and I was teaching myself Japanese, putting pics of the cutest Japanese actresses onto all of my DJ/CD carry cases alongside horror and heavy metal icons, and enrolling in a Japanese course at University to go alongside my major in English Literature.

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So, as briefly as possible, I’ve always had a love for Japan – starting off with entertainment and veering off into language and culture. I quickly found a number of like-minded souls who had varying degrees of appreciation for the same stuff I was into – some people loved the movies, some were obsessed with anime and/or manga, others with EVERYTHING. While I would still say that movies are my favourite, with books closely behind, I never really watched a lot of Japanese Television, animated or otherwise. It seemed too difficult to find, and too time-consuming, plus there are still a lot of misconceptions and raised eyebrows when people admit in their 20s and 30s and beyond to watching Japanese cartoons (where I’m from it’s hard enough convincing people you’re not a rampaging pervert for watching ‘foreign films’ or that you’re some sort of weird flag-burning anarchist for daring to expose yourself to something outside the cultural norm). Mostly I’m good with people thinking whatever they like of me, and I’ve never had a problem being the weirdo, but still Japanese TV seemed a step too far when there was still so much in the West I wanted to watch.

The temptation is always there though, isn’t it? Some of my favourite actors and actresses are Japanese, but for many of them there was a large gap in my knowledge of them because they appeared on TV as well as movies. More and more I saw rave reviews about certain shows and they sounded exactly like the sort of thing I’d love. I kept seeing pop-ups for Crunchyroll on various pages I visited. One day, not too long ago, I gave in and decided to visit the site as it claimed I could watch for free. I began searching at random for shows I’d seen, some I’d heard of, and then for some of those actors and actresses. Lo and behold, results pages came back full. I selected a random episode and it began to play in full HD glory with subtitles. Converted. Hallelujah.

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Now, with so many shows out there I was a little overwhelmed. If you’re a regular reader here you’ll know or assume that I love lists. Before I do pretty much anything, I make a list. I started googling for best anime, best Japanese TV shows, best Japanese horror TV etc etc. While I was doing this, I happened to catch one show while randomly scrolling through TV shows – a screenshot of your typical Westerner’s expectation – a hot Japanese woman in a school uniform. Being a fan of lurid fantasy, I naturally clicked on the screenshot and read the blurb:

Heads turn and jaws drop as gorgeous 35-year-old Ayako Baba (Ryoko Yonekura) suddenly appears on the first day of Kunikida High. Her fabulous clothes and stunning figure set off a firestorm of speculation. Is she another one of those diva moms!? Or is she a new teacher!? Everyone is shocked beyond belief when they find out that Ayako is in fact a new student!

Before I (finally) talk about the show itself, that blurb did resonate particularly strongly with me (even though it is by no means a good description of the show). I may not be a 35 year old Japanese woman (yet) but I do have a recurring dream where I have to go back to school. I’m aware that this is your typical stress related dream – the more common one is of people dreaming that they have a big exam or test and that they’ve forgotten to study for it (even though they left school decades earlier). In mine I’m roughly my current age and for some reason me, and everyone who was in my year in school, have to return for one final year. It’s totally bizarre, yet uncommonly real – we all wear our uniforms, we all follow the same morning routine. It’s always the first day in my dream, and nothing different really happens – I saunter into the building via the side entrance I always took (I don’t even think that entrance exists anymore as the school had a massive redevelopment shortly after I left), and I always stand at the radiator near the canteen and wait for others to arrive, just like I did every morning in reality. Friends I don’t see anymore, and some that I do, slowly come in and join me and the usual chatter ensues. The dream rarely goes beyond this point, but when it does it always gets further stress related as the bell rings and I’ve no idea which class I’m supposed to go too. It’s interesting because I didn’t ever worry about stuff like that when I was in school, so why should it feature so heavily when I sleep? I’m not even sure I have anything in my life to be stressed about. Also, my sleeping mind does seem aware that time has passed and (even though I haven’t been back to school since leaving) it attempts to imagine the new rooms and corridors which have been built since the redevelopment. Discuss.

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Just another day at my former school

The show stars Ryoko Yonekura as the titular mature student. I don’t recall seeing her in anything else, but she does a damn good job here as both the weary focal point for bullies and incompetent staff, and as a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. The story opens with what appears to be the suicide of a teacher, then we get an intro which highlights the troubles of Japanese schools:

Modern high schools are degenerating into lawless wastelands. Vicious bullying. Absenteeism. Depression. Their lives completely at the mercy of the dreaded school caste system. Everyone is driven to exhaustion by playing their assigned role. These apply not only to students, but parents and teachers too. Perhaps, even to school pets in extreme cases. A cloud of darkness, impenetrable by hope. That may be the case, but that’s why we wonder what will a 35-year-old student experience in that endless void?

Ayako Baba is enlisted by a superintendent to infiltrate the school for vague and unmentioned reasons, aside from that she should see what life is really like for kids and staff in school. ‘Students these days have it really tough’ is a recurring phrase. As expected, the school members all think this is bizarre but take it in their stride and soon Baba-chan is doing her schoolwork and trying to make friends just like everyone else.

I haven’t completed the series yet (I’m over half-way), but each episode follows a roughly generic formula – something bad or unusual happens involving one of the students or teachers, and Ayako tries to resolve the problem. In doing this she makes a friends with some, makes enemies with others, and is seen as a nuisance by the faculty. Interspersed are scenes where she meets with the superintendent who appears to be giving her missions and requesting updates, as well as scenes of Ayako sitting alone in a small room, looknig through what seems to be a box of memories. For some reason these scenes make me uneasy and remind me of Audition. I don’t think that is intended – they are meant to be mysterious, but reflective.

So far the show has had some genuinely touching moments, especially when dealing with issues such as bullying and suicide. The show also has plenty of humour and lots of bizarre near breaking of the 4th wall. Certain characters are only there for exposition purposes, but it’s done in a knowing manner with nods and winks which are quite funny. I don’t know yet if this sort of thing is exclusive to the show, or a common feature of dramas. There has not been any romance yet – which is something I had used as an excuse to not watch Japanese TV – I’d heard of so many shows which seemed to just be awkward boy meets awkward girl and awkwardness ensues. If I wanted that I’d just close my eyes and remember my own past. I’ve also no idea how much of what is explored is accurate and how much is over the top. Bullying, peer pressure, cliques etc are always a part of school and suicide is something which is a serious problem in Japan and is disastrously common in my home country too. The cliques in the show are more clearly, obsessively defined than anything I personally encountered. There are three classes – top, middle, bottom basically, with each student assigned a ranking (and staff too). Those at the top are the rich and entitled, and appear to be in charge of the rankings. They essentially do what they want, make everyone else’s lives miserable, and have the teachers jumping through hoops. The middle kids are the generally regular kids just trying to do their work and get through each day, with a few aiming to please to get into the top class, and a few close to slipping further down. The lower class are the ones that everyone picks on. Somewhere however, there appears to be a headphone wearing person pulling all the strings, and they are not pleased with Ayako’s meddling.

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I have to say that I am enjoying the show so far. Maybe it’s because it’s my first, or maybe it’s because I can relate to it, but it is a well acted, generally well written, and entertaining (for me) show. I appreciate that only a little of the over-arcing story is drip fed in each episode, and I do feel like I am getting to know the characters in a short space of time. The upper class bunch seem like a sinister group of wasters, their only fun derived from inflecting suffering on others, while the other students have endearing qualities. Nana Katase is good as the gossiping teacher, while her real life (maybe) boyfriend Junpei Mizobata plays a bumbling, weak-willed but good-natured new teacher. There aren’t any bad or annoying performances.

I don’t have much more to add so far (I like the music), but from what I understand there is only 1 Season of the show, so it won’t take me long to get through the remaining episodes. It does feel like something which may get samey over a short space of time, but at the moment it’s pretty addictive. I’d recommend it if anyone is looking for a not too offbeat, not too serious look at high school life from a different perspective. If anything I’ve written sounds like it would interest you, then give it a shot – it’s on Crunchyroll and it’s free! Let us know in the comments if you’ve seen it, or if you think you’ll watch it in the future. And of course, if you have any suggestions for good TV shows, modern, old, Japanese, or otherwise, let me know!

Sh*t I Used To Watch – Gladiators

Awooga! We traipse down memory lane once more today, this time to revisit a seminal Saturday night Tele phenomenon.

Yep, Gladiators was a monster hit when it first was broadcast in the UK, creating icons out of many of the performers and people involved; John Anderson the referee, John Sachs the announcer, Wolf, Jet, Shadow, Warrior, Lightning, Saracen etc were people who would be spoken of in classrooms, playgrounds, and probably pubs and workplaces the following Monday. More than just a ratings monster, this saw impressionable kids like me wanting to emulate the show and setting up our own events at lunch-time in school or in the street and garden after school. Taking my favourite part of The Krypton Factor (already one of my favourite shows by the time Gladiators appeared) – the obstacle course – and expanding that into an hour-long format featuring different events meant it was always going to be a hit with me. It’s still surprising to me though that the show became such the phenomenon that it was with older audiences

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Maybe she had something to do with it

Yes, there were hotties and hunks all round, and there wasn’t really anything else like it on early nineties TV. Previously we had seen shows like It’s A Knockout and Challenge Anneka along with a variety of similarly themed shows (including one of my favourites, the epic Run The Gauntlet – which nobody remembers), but nothing which so brilliantly tested contestants to physical extremes against each other, but also against Gladiators who could have so easily crushed them if they so desired. The only truly similar show that UK audiences had was The Crystal Maze (which I’ll cover in a later post), but it was always a more clinical show about quick thinking and teamwork. What is remarkable is how few copycat shows appeared, at least in the UK. Eventually we had shows like Fear Factor, Knights And Warriors, Fort Boyard (Based on a French show from before Gladiators), and Battle Dome, but none of these were popular in UK. Today we have the terrible Wipeout and the embarrassing Ninja Warrior (a pale imitation of the Japanese original). We seemed to get more intelligence oriented than action shows – Record Breakers, You Bet etc. Anyway, enough of the listing of other shows, lets discuss Gladiators. Contenders, ready?!

Gladiators was a port of the US hit American Gladiators. I’ve seen bits of the US version, not as entertaining as the UK one, and the crossovers which took place over the years were low points for the series. The show, for anyone not aware, was set inside Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena in front of a large live crowd and pitting two groups of contestants against a series of grueling trials against the Gladiators – highly trained and athletic super humans. Some of the events saw the contestants racing each other to win, while in others the individual contestant was pitted against one or more Gladiators. The show was over the top, with that strong mix of violence and fun that strikes a chord with any pre-pubescent male, and everyone else in the country, it seemed. The contestants went through a strict selection process (seen in video flashback segments when introducing the contestants) to prove that they were good enough to take on the might of the gladiators. The strange thing is, that selection process must have been pretty crap as I remember some truly dreadful, unfit people getting on the show – my 10-year-old self could easily have beaten them in most events. I don’t really remember any muscle-bound freaks getting through as contestants, but for the most part the men and women were average people with some sort of interest in fitness or exercise, whether they took part in marathons or martial arts or had a physically demanding job.

CIA got you pushing too many pencils
CIA got you pushing too many pencils

The contestants were split in two groups in each episode – two men and two women, and the overall series was a set of knockouts with the winner of each episode progressing to the next round until the grand finale – acting as the last episode in the series. There were usually five or six events in each episode, usually the same for men and women, and each episode always ending with The Eliminator – a deadly multi-feature race over obstacles – whoever finished first won the episode and progressed. In each of the prior games, the contestants would compete to win points – whoever had the most points upon reaching the Eliminator would get a head-start – half a second per point I believe. The head start didn’t always make much of a difference – sometimes you would have someone with a five or ten second lead, but the chaser would overtake them on the dreaded Travelator – a jog machine set on a slope right at the end of the course which saw the downfall of many a contestant. The biggest humiliation was failing after several attempts on the Travelator and either giving up and not finishing the course, or having it slowed down to allow the exhausted runner to struggle to the top.

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But before we get into the final round, lets talk about the main events. Over the roughly eight year run of the series, we saw many many events, some were regular favourites, some were random oddities. As the series and years progressed, the events got more outlandish and spectacular, but also suffered from a lack of ideas – the most loved events come from the peak of the series in its first three or four years. In the early years, most episodes featured Duel – a Contestant versus Gladiator fight high off the ground involving pugil sticks with the Contestant trying to knock the Gladiator off, or more commonly, simply surviving a battering for thirty seconds. This round was usually the one just before The Eliminator. The women’s matches were never that exiting (aside from the pervy perspective) while the men’s event was only truly great i the early days when Shadow was the regular Duel Gladiator. He would almost always destroy the Contestant, physically and mentally, and I’m not sure how any of them were able to return to normality after such an emasculating mauling. Once Shadow left, Duel lost its spark (though Nightshade joining as the female equivalent provided some interest).

Challenge TV - where memories are zombified
Challenge TV – where memories are zombified

Other regulars in the early days included The Wall, Hang Tough, and Atlaspheres. Atlaspheres was typically the first event, seeing both Contestants and two Gladiators being locked inside individual giant metal caged balls – in a time limit the Contestants had to try to manoeuver their balls (ahem) over some special glory holes (ahem ahem) in the ground to be awarded points, while the Gladiators attempted to shove them about. This was always an exciting starting point to the show, and there was always the threat of injury or a closely contested battle. Hang Tough was (perfectly described in Wikipedia) an aerial game of chess – a one vs one, Contestant vs Gladiator battle of strength, stamina, speed, and strength and one which I dearly wanted to play with Jet. You had to swing from chain to chain over an open-pit to get from your side, past the Gladiator, to the point that the Gladiator came from. If you met the Gladiator on your way, they would wrestle you off the swinging chains to the ground, wrapping their legs around your body and tugging until you couldn’t take any more (ahem). Masters of this round were Lightning and Saracen. Getting to the opposite side was the rare ultimate victory, but if you managed to get into the scoring area in the middle of the pit, and held on till the time ran out, you would earn some pints too. Always an exciting round, (though it always annoyed me when as Jet hardly ever did it) this was the one which most kids tried to emulate on their nearest tree or Monkey Bars. I believe I remain undefeated. The Wall was a simple race up an artificial climbing wall. The Contestants would race each other, but after a five second head start, they would be chased by a Gladiator who would attempt to pull them off the wall. This one sometimes became heated, with people getting kicked and tugged in ways they felt was against the rules – John Anderson frequently had to step in to defuse the situation.

My favourite event was Danger Zone – one which became less frequent as the show went on. It involved the Contestant running through a variety of obstacles and zones while the Gladiator fired Tennis Balls at them from afar – if you got hit, you were out. The twist was that the Contestant could fight back –  in each zone there was a weapon which you could use to try to hit a target and defeat the gladiator. Each zone had a timed limit before exploding so you had to hide, compose, fire and run in ten seconds, all while avoiding being hit. Make it to the end of the course safely and you’d get some points too – great stuff. There’s not enough time to talk about all the events, but there were many I enjoyed – Gauntlet (Contestant runs through a narrow alley filled with Gladiators who try to snap your spine), Pendulum (Contestant climbs around a giant ball suspended high in the air while Gladiator attempts to steal your flag and snap your spine), Pole-Axe (a race up a giant spinning totem where the winner gets to hit a button and snap the loser’s spine), Powerball (another four person event crossing rugby and basketball where Contestants try to throw balls into hoops whilst avoiding having their spines snapped), Pursuit (a mini-Eliminator where you were chased by a Gladiator), Skytrak (Contender’s race upside down in a figure 8 track attached to the ceiling while Gladiators give chase), Swingshot (Bungee Jumping Basketball), Tilt (a tilting tug of war) etc. Most involved possible spine snaps.

So, so many snapped spines

The Eliminator, as already mentioned, was a final race between contenders with no Gladiator involvement – although it changed slightly over the years it largely remained the same. It started with a series of jumps and climbs followed by what looked like an impossible mid-air handlebar-arm-cycling thing which people frequently messed up as if they had never been given a chance to practice on it. We then had a large net climb followed by a spectacular zip-line drop to the ground, before a wobbly balancing act and up the Travelator for a rope-swing over the finish line; I wish every day started and ended with this, and that my school had installed something like this – I would never have been off it.

But what about the Gladiators themselves? In a watered-down version of Wrestling, each Gladiator had their own vaguely distinct personality though this rarely went beyond ‘I am the best at X event’. The only true pantomime performer was Wolf, who would regularly get pissed off if contestants defeated him, if a decision went against him, or if someone in the crowd looked at him the wrong way. He even had his own chant, with the audience booing, hissing, and singing ‘who’s afraid of the big bad wolf’ whenever he went on a strop. This all created a rather unique atmosphere as this was mostly not a scripted show where winners and results were not predetermined. It was entertaining nonetheless, and maybe wouldn’t have worked if other gladiators followed Wolf’s lead. The show blended these pantomime moments with brief clips of the contenders who talked about themselves, their family lives etc in an early introduction to reality TV. Then you also had the two presenters (yes they would change after a while but I’ll only cover the originals) ex-footballer John Fashanu, and ex-Swede Ulrika-ka-ka Jonsson. They both did well in their roles, becoming household names in the process. But where are they now? Fash is still involved in football, both behind the scenes and occasionally in front of the camera in various reality shows. Ulrika of course featured heavily on one of my all time favourite shows Shooting Stars, and went on to star in various public scandals and celeb relationships, as well as the occasional reality TV show. Similarly, many of the gladiators have appeared in reality TV shows, as guests on game shows and panel shows, some in panto, others taking on completely new jobs etc. As for the Wolfman, he continues to cage fight against people half his age and run a number of gyms.

Michael van Bolton

With the show being such a huge success, we saw special editions of the show – an ill-advised return a few years back, a kids version, cross-nation team versions etc. Although the show began to feel tired after a few seasons, it remained a vital part of my Saturday night routine, like so many others. I would head out to the Swimming Pool where we had special Saturday night rights to the pool (don’t ask), stop off at Edit’s on the way home for a pastie/fish/sausage supper, then watch all these shows and hope that Blind Date wasn’t on. Good times.

I can’t end without mentioning the epic music – the show had a fist-pumping, silly, rousing anthem suitable for any 80s action movie. Remind yourself of it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8xj-Cr-J8w. That’s the entire song, the show opened with an edited (better) version but the whole thing is worth a listen. Many of the events had their own music too, each one fast paced and exciting and designed to get the blood swirling – and most are pretty memorable. Not that the music was responsible for or integral to the show’s success, but if you happened to switch channels and catch the intro I’d say there was a decent chance you’d stay on that channel to see what all the noise was about. For fans, it’s part and parcel of the show’s charms – nostalgic or otherwise.

Oh yeah, just one more thing. Remember this?

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Look closely. No, not there, dirty boy. Look at the man. Look at the face. Yes, it’s Wolf himself! Before donning the pantaloons and chasing stringbean humans around futuristic arenas he was beheading trolls and canoodling with wenches in a fiery wasteland (or posing for Spectrum game covers).

There you go, another one bites the dust. Do you have any fond memories of the show? What was your favourite event, and who was your favourite Gladiator? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Nightly Neighbours

Greetings Glancers! Today’s tale of the macabre deals with two of the sexiest v-words of them all – Vampires and Voyeurism. It’s a story that borrows heavily from movies such as Rear Window, Fright Night, and The Burbs, but can it hold a candle up to those classics?

Lets take a look at Amazon’s blurb on the episode and see if anything sounds familiar: Emma and DayDay Toll have some new neighbours who seem a bit out of the ordinary. The eerie family, a couple and their anemic-looking son wear only black and are never seen during the day. A workman informs the kids that they are from Transylvania.

So far, so clichéd. So, once again we have a dynamic duo with a bit of sibling rivalry thrown in for good measure – AYAOTD staples – I wonder if the parents will be scarce. Naturally, we have an inexplicable character name in DayDay (America). I jotted down notes about this episode months ago, and when I saw ‘DayDay’ I assumed that the auto-correct had flipped its shit for a second and converted something like ‘David’ into this monstrosity. I should have known… I should have known.

Reading the blurb, it’s another episode that I didn’t recall seeing, although when I watched it some minor things sparked vague memories, such as the actors involved. With a shrug of our shoulders, let us commence with the review.

We open, as with most episodes, on our campfire losers sharing some banter. In these few moments we learn quite a lot about the individuality of each character, but they raise an interesting question which I have often pondered over – why do we tell scary stories at night, or why do scary stories feature night-time so heavily? The answers are obvious and true – we have an innate fear of darkness, it’s often more scary when you can’t see what is (or might be) in front of you, and darkness lends itself beautifully to atmosphere. A hush falls in the night as you listen to a lone voice telling a spooky tale – there is nothing else to see in the surroundings, the only thing to focus on is the voice and the story, and the only distraction is your own imagination. However, as far as horror movies and TV shows go, the vast majority of stories are conducted at night-time – with the most frightening moments, and with conclusions most often coming once the sun has gone down or the light has been extinguished. When I was young, experiencing my first horror films from between my fingers, or cautiously over the top of a book, I always dreaded the moment when night would fall; that was the moment I would take a sharp intake of breath and tense my body, as I knew something horrible was sure to come. What Kristen says though, should surely also be true – if a story is truly scary, it shouldn’t matter when it is told, or whether it happened at night or day. If we look at the true horror stories of our lives – most occur during the day, from terrorist attacks to traffic accidents, to losing sight your child in a crowded place or visiting a loved one in hospital. There are only a handful of supernatural stories on the big or small screen which take place mostly in sunlight, and it’s always been my wish to create something terrifying which takes place during those hours we traditionally feel safest – where can we hide if we are just as tormented by things that go bump in the day?

Here?
Here?

It’s a moot point though, as our episode concerns itself with those Vitamin D dodgers of the undead – vampires. Vampires, sexy as they may have once been (before they became all Sparkly and mopey), are governed by strict rules, none more so than the fact that sunlight kills them. But what is more dangerous – a bloodsucking demon that can only attack under certain conditions at certain times, or a person with an over-active imagination, someone prone to paranoia and mistrust, and with a will to submit to their possible delusions and hunt down their own truth whatever the cost?

Ironically, our story begins with one of the greatest scenes in horror cinema, and one which takes place during the day – the attack on Barbara and her brother in Night Of The Living Dead. DayDay (sigh) is watching it, when he is interrupted by his annoying older sister Emma. She berates him for being like their dad and watching TV all day instead of getting out into the world and making a difference. Our Emma seems like a firebrand, reeling against white bread routine and middle class suburbia, wishing for something or someone interesting to enter their lives. And just like that, new neighbours move in – at night, mysteriously clad in black, poised together like some off-the-books military organisation. As Emma and Dayday discuss, the newbs turn in their direction in unison – scary times! And with the space of four seconds, where Dayday announces that they’re definitely going to stay away from these new neighbours, they go over to say ‘Hi’!

We’re only a few minutes in so far, but it’s nice to see a decent pair of young actors again – the show continues to get better with regards to the performances of the youngsters. But look, it’s the mother! She’s bound to put in a strong display of acting qua- no – wait, she just backed away from the camera, knocked over the Postman, and disappeared, howling ‘I’m late’ with glee. So, no parents in this one then. That was some slapstick fun though. The mailman does say that he has already met the new neighbours – the same day he picked up an odd illness which has been making him tired and sick. Hmm, could the neighbours, from THE UKRAINE, possibly be involved? We get a mini epic of time passing while Emma becomes increasingly suspicious. We get our first truly creepy moment when the boy next door introduces himself, a genuinely creepy shot of him appearing in the background, complete with an equally creepy ‘hello’.

A bit like this

No sooner have we rid ourselves of that, we are next subjected to a nightmare sequence with a little too much of a pedo-vibe than we would have liked as the daddy next door slinks his way, BOB style into Emma’s room, across the floor, and onto her bed. Thankfully this is followed up by a dual melee attack of Dayday’s entire bedroom wall conveniently being painted as a map of the Earth, and Emma proclaiming that Ukraine is near all those places with ‘ania’ in their name, like Transylvania.

Captain Obvious is here - I'llllll get iiiitt!
Captain Obvious is here – I’llllll get iiiitt!

We flick back to the Campfire losers for a quick round of ‘who’s the most annoying’, with Kiki being the winner again, before Emma readies herself to entire the neighbour’s house. To the show’s credit we get a nice throwback to Rear Window as Emma prowls through their basement while the neighbours get invited into Dayday’s house by his useless mother (who looks like a cross between Carrie Fisher, and someone who is not Carrie Fisher). This is all quite tense, features odd music, and even some bizarre Leone-style close-ups of Dayday. It’s pretty funny too, the incredibly hammy accents and puns, though this is offset by vampire mom being hot. Dayday’s mum gives a strange performance, like an American, sleazy, Hyacinth Bucket.

In good old Lost Boys fashion, the kids arm up and return at daylight to dispatch of their neighbours. When disturbed, they decide to hide in the worst possible place, under a tall, narrow table where it would be literally impossible for anyone to NOT see them. Come on prop team, you couldn’t have found a more suitable table? Or thrown a piece of cloth of the top of it? It’s the most ridiculous moment in an episode full of them. Anyway, it all ends with a twist and WHAT THE BALLS WAS THAT NOISE COMING FROM THE BOY’S MOUTH!?

Unknown
Unknown

Another decent episode then, nothing too spectacular, but quite entertaining. Lets have a look at what the cast has been up to before and since this episode was created, starting with Emma, played by Suzanna Shebib who has the same odd lispy way of talking as Graeme Millington did in The Tale Of The Prom Queen. She gives a watchable performance, but according to IMDB she only has four other credits to her name – three other minor TV series in minor roles, and in Billy Madison as ‘High School Girl’ back in 1995. Young Dayday (Noah Godfrey) fairs marginally better, also gaining five credits but having a longer role in Babar. Harriet Dove played their mother in what appears to be her only screen credit, possibly meaning they pulled her off the street for a quick couple of scenese and slipped her a fifty. Two minor characters appear – the delivery man (Mark Camacho) and the frail mailman (Johni Keyworth). Keyworth has appeared in a number of never-seen tv movies, series, and done some work as a voice actor in equally unseen shows, but more importantly he is another who is set to appear in a future episode  –The Tale of The Thirteenth Floor while Camacho has appeared in many many shows and movies. He was President Nixon in Days Of Future Past, has voiced many videogame characters, and acts as Oliver in the long running cartoon series Arthur. He is also set to return in a future AYAOTD episode – The Tale Of The Shiny Red Bicycle. 

That only leaves us with the vampires – Mum (Francoise Robertson), Dad (Carl Alacchi), noise boy (Johnny Morina). Morina it seems was once an up and coming star thanks to an appearance in Kids Of The Round Table. However, it looks like he only made a few more films I’ve never heard of, including one with AYAOTD’s very own Kristen. Alacci is a fairly recognizable actor from over 70 movies and series including Omerta, The Day After Tomorrow, and 18 To Life. Oh yeah, he also appears in a future AYAOTD episode. I recognize Robertson from Sliders and SG1, and she has also appeared in multiple other series and movies, like Battlestar Gallactica and We All Fall Down.

So, another episode down. next up we treat ourselves to some METAL in The Tale Of The Dark Music. Until then, sweet dreams!

What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments, and check out the previous reviews here:

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-captured-soul/

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-prom-queen/

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-hungry-hounds/

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-twisted-claw/

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-lonely-ghost/

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-laughing-in-the-dark/

https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-phantom-cab/

Sh*T I Watch – Breaking Bad

In this series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourites TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular. Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of.

Breaking Bad. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word against it, and those who watch it inevitably praise it. Well, all that’s about to change folks! Don’t worry, I’m not going to sit here and say that Breaking Bad is crap – it’s clearly not. It is an often excellent show with always superb performances, it tows the line between gripping tension, brutal violence, offbeat humour, and depicts its characters with a maniacal realism. But it isn’t without some faults, most of which are minor, subjective, and petty at worst, and I’m going to briefly talk about those below. But first, bear in mind that I have not yet finished the show – I’m almost at the end of Season 4 – which has taken me maybe two years to reach, so I don’t have much more to watch – NO SPOILERS!

Breaking Bad’s first series was an entertaining blend of humour and drama with two interesting characters who you wanted to root for, but also screamed at for dumb decisions. Season 1’s biggest failing perhaps was the lack of interesting supporting characters – with the exception of Hank no-one else really felt important or worthwhile (although Jessie’s assorted mates provided some decent light relief). Later seasons have rectified this by bringing in a more layered cast of characters, each with their flaws and plus points, and even characters not used to great effect ni the early days begin to show their worth. I do feel though that the addition of new characters has been at the detriment to the plot – we’re basically going through the same moves now, with Walt and Jessie getting up to some dire escapade and just barely avoiding death or the law or worse. Each Season has its own arc, but at its core it’s still about getting rich off drugs and not getting caught or killed in the process. That doesn’t mean that the show is not worth watching, clearly it is, just that it doesn’t engage or excite me as it did in its early days. The stakes are higher, but somehow the drama is less intense.

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The show’s strength having said all of that is its writing. There are few shows which can compete with the writing of the characters in Breaking Bad. The conflicts within and between each character are multi-faceted, and the likes of Walt and Jessie are given exceptional dilemma and dialogue. The show, again highlighted in its early days, is written with a scientific precision and it is again one of a very small number of series which makes you feel smarter just by watching. On the flip side, the show is not afraid to go deep into the dark, seedy side of drugs, abuse, and the criminal underbelly. It tows the line between the glossy side of drugs – the money, the feeling, the experience, but never shies away from the fact that someone somewhere is being killed, tortured, or abused by making, selling, or taking these narcotics. The dialogue though is only as strong as the person delivering it, and with Breaking Bad there is a stellar cast who are so good they risk being typecast themselves. Even the bit players, or those who are important for a few episodes are stellar. While lacking the Hollywood names of shows which would come after, Breaking Bad is definitely one of the shows which heralded in this New Golden Age Of Television, where the best writers, actors, and directors realised they could give better performances, tell greater stories, and reach wider audiences on the small screen.

One thing which the show gets a lot of praise for is its music; not for me though. Too often are there pointless musical interludes or unnecessary blasts of sound or songs. These pieces are more often than not irritating and, well, crappy. Sure it can be argued that they set the scene for the border war area, but for me they get in the way, add nothing, and could be easily replaced by a more traditional score. Something more petty which bothers me is the emptiness of the setting. This looks like a dead America, lifeless and barren. I’m sure this is all deliberate, and understand that I’m not taking about the deserts employed in Season 1, but rather the town and suburban areas. This is a personal thing which in no way detracts from the show, but it gives me some feelings I can’t quite put into words – something akin to depression, the same feelings I see in the autumn countryside where everything reeks of death and useless expanses of land decaying.

Leaving loose ends is something I’ve also noticed, and while i haven’t finished the show to see if some of these are picked up on, to me it gives the impression of the writers trying to take a story or character in one direction but then abandoning that idea. I know that my two examples below aren’t the best as I;m sure they will be revisited, but as I’m writing this from the top of my head with no prior planning, you’ll have to bear with me. Jessie’s relationship with what’s her name goth girl – not necessarily set up to have the tragic ending that it did have, but at this point Walt has not had to answer for his crimes. Like I say, I’m sure this will come around again, but I get the feeling that this was set up to be a central conflict between Jessie, Walt, even the girl’s father – but that they decided to sweep it under the carpet. Similarly, Hank’s brief job down south where he witnesses a brutal turtle-related explosion, is all set up to show how scared and unhinged Hank is becoming but there is no pay-off or resolution. Some will argue that this lead to Hank’s beating of Jessie, but for me it again looked like the writers wanted to do something different with Hank then, for whatever reason, discarded the idea. Naturally both of these examples are covered up nicely but the rough edges remain.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5b _ Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

So, enough moaning. Good acting and good writing is usually enough to get me watching any TV show. The idea of this meek, dying, mid-life crisis, talent thrown away man becoming a drug king pin is the main reason for the show existing, and Walt’s transformation over time is brilliantly executed. From the subtle moments in the early episodes of him failing to lose his nerve, from his increasingly devious and desperate plans, to his eventual cold-blooded malice and self-serving violence and vengeance is arguably the best portrayal of one man’s descent ever filmed. Jessie’s changes have likewise been interesting, but more uneven – from drug-taking waster, to man on the street with connections, to Walt’s lackey, to reformed junkie, to efficient drug-maker and killer. I want to see what happens next to these two – Skylar was such a wasted opportunity that I don’t care what happens to her. With a better written wife, a more interesting character from the start, she could have created and become involved in more interesting drama, instead of being the paranoid, bored, boring housewife who goes down the tried and pointless storytelling technique of having sex with someone else – the show doesn’t know what to do with its women. Side characters like Saul, Hank, all have their moments and are more the sort of person the show needs to keep that spark as the series progresses. Again personally, the show never quite pulls me in enough that I feel I need to watch episodes in rapid succession, but after some time passes I do want to come back to it.

That seems like a reasonable place to stop. I’d like to go on a little more about the humour but for now I’ll say that the show has a fair amount of funny moments, whether it be silly slapstick, or simply the increasing ridiculous nature of the scrapes the characters paint themselves into. I could talk more about the violence, the realism, the smaller side characters, but for now I want to go finish the season and see what happens next as it has been a few weeks since I last watched an episode. Let us know in the comments what you make of Breaking Bad – are you a fan, or are you one of the crazed few who hasn’t been wrapped up in the love-fest? How does that Saul spin-off show shape-up? Inject your opinions below.

Sh*t I Used To Watch – Friends

In this new series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourites TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular. Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of.

So no-one told you life was gonna be this way? Either a question or a statement, the opening words of one of the most recognisable songs of the 90s spoke volumes about the show it appeared on – the all-conquering Friends. The show was about 6 twentysomethings living, working, and loving in New York and followed their various relationships and tribulations over 10 Seasons. It rejuvenated the stale sitcom format, launching the careers of its six main cast members, garnering rave reviews and massive worldwide audiences, and remains incredibly influential. On paper, the shows sounds like something I would never choose to watch; Lord knows if was only created and shown today for the first time it would be packed with too many smiling faces, reality stars, and a multitude of other reasons to not watch. When it first aired in the UK, I was 12 years old (arggghh) and it was a pretty big hit amongst certain groups of my peers. I remember a lot of people in school talking about it, and although most of the people who were talking about it were those whose opinions I didn’t care for, and although they made it sound much worse than it actually was, a few people whose brains I actually did trust also loved it. In short, I’m not sure why I eventually decided to watch it – I’ve never been one to give in to peer pressure, the show sounded rubbish, but for some reason I watched it. And when I did, I was hooked.

What people who haven’t seen Friends don’t realise is that it isn’t a simple, standard sitcom featuring unrealistically pretty people in unrealistic situations. While it was trendy, while the people involved are too pretty, and while many critics and fans did focus on the more shallow and less important aspects of the show, it was, and still is an incredibly well written show, and features exceptional comedic performances. Much of the humour is zany and offbeat, but not in the obvious way and not in the ironic way seen nowadays. It was a very slight touch – often only a single moment in a single episode. While I never really got wrapped up in the who’s dating who aspect of the show, the characters did grow on me quickly, and I did eventually want certain characters to end up with each other. The show played this card a little too often over the ten years, and a little excessively towards the end, but at its peak it was extremely good at being charming and making the viewer root for someone they loved.

Arguably my favourite funny moment of the show is something that no-one else would ever think of. It was in one of the first few episodes, and Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe appear to be having a sleepover on their balcony. The girls are a little tipsy while talking about relationships. Rachel leans forwards and her cushion falls off the balcony; there’s a beat, and the group continue their chat. For no greater insight into my personality – I’m laughing my nuts off thinking about it now, while you are staring at the screen wondering why that’s funny and thinking what the hell is wrong with me. As I continued to watch, I got into the swing of the dialogue, grew to love each of the friends, saw the highest of high quality of the writing, and even got drawn into the various love duels – one in particular.

Yes, in another time I may say I’m ashamed to say i got drawn into such things, especially as everyone else was talking about the will they, won’t they nature of Ross and Rachel, but for a couple of Seasons there it was wonderful. Even though Ross is a bit of a knob who almost falls into all those ‘Nice Guy’ tropes and traps, there is still something loveable about how inept he was, and it was clear for everyone that he was perfect for Rachel. This all peaks of course in The One With The Prom Video – a flashback episode where the gang find an old Video featuring their younger selves preparing for Prom. For some reason Ross really does not want to watch the video, but everyone else does. We assume for much of the episode that Ross is simply embarrassed about everyone seeing what a doofus he was, but the selfless act at the end leads to one of my favourite moments in the show. But before that, we get plenty of hilarious moments which the writers would revisit with lesser effect throughout the series – Monica’s weight, Chandler’s attraction to trends, Ross’s gradual steps from one strand of geekdom (and his music which is visited later to excellent effect) to another etc. As the Prom video progresses we see that even then Ross was infatuated by Rachel and is upset when he sees that Rachel has been stood up by her date. Upon his parents’ insistence, Ross gets dressed in his tuxedo to offer to take Rachel to the prom (with comedy stair-falling), but just as he is about to come downstairs to ask her if she will go with him he catches Rachel leaving with Monica and their dates – it turns out Rachel’s date was simply late; Ross is broken and the video is turned off. We see that this is why Ross didn’t want the gang to see the video, but as he readies himself for a comic backlash, Rachel approaches him and gives him one of the greatest kisses in TV history. Yay! Fade to black and end the series on a high! Ah, I’m tearing a little at the memory of it, and I still remember the feeling of joy now.

Aside from the main characters, the show had a large and varied cast of recurring characters – some excellent actors who would appear in a handful of episodes, or others who would continue to appear over the 10 Seasons – the various parents of each character, Janice, Gunther, Carol and Susan, Julie, Pete, Mr Heckles, Estelle, Emily – all of them and more felt like real people and not simple two-dimensional figures thrown in to serve some random plot. The show also drew the best of Hollywood as guest stars – Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, George Clooney –  the list goes on, and each made a lasting impact. The show was a cultural phenomenon and everyone wanted a slice. Arguably no show before or since has seen such adoration from fans and critics, and seen so many A-Listers falling over themselves to be a part of it.

The Simpsons has a claim to this of course, but roughly since its 10th Season the show has become a depressingly awful abomination
The Simpsons has a claim to this of course, but roughly since its 10th Season the show has become a depressingly awful abomination

Another favourite memory of mine is the double Wedding episode set in London. Rachel has rushed to London to stop Ross from marrying Emily and the series ends on a stinking cliffhanger. I remember that when this was first shown in the UK, there was a break between when this episode ended and when the new series began. I can’t recall what the delay was  – it may have been only a week, or it may have been a few months. Luckily one of my friends and me had RTE – the television service of the Irish Republic, which just happened to be showing the new episode of the new series that very night – just after the British broadcast ended. Remember that this was before all the internetting and Tweetbooking we have nowadays, so being one of a select few who were able to catch the new episode and get the resolution to the cliffhanger was a real coup.

Over time though I gradually lost my way with the show. The show began to re-tread similar ideas and I began watching other stuff. I would still tune in the odd time to catch an episode or two, but I didn’t like what I saw – there seemed to be a shift in the humour, the performances were too self-aware, and stories of the actors being paid ridiculous amounts of money all pissed me off. The show seemed to have hit its peak and wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t until after the show had officially ended that I returned to it. My girlfriend at the time (later to be my wife) had most of the Seasons on DVD so we had a bargain that I would watch all of Friends with her if she would watch all of Buffy. It was win win for me then as I already liked Friends  and was interested in watching it all again, and I love seeing people’s opinion’s of Buffy changing as they inevitably fall in love with it (took her until the 2nd Season like most people). It turns out that I was right and wrong about the final seasons of Friends – yes the show did become bloated, the actors did become overpaid, but the writing for the large part shone through. Although none of the major plots gripped me as much as the early season plots did, there were still a lot of highlights – Ross and his keyboard, Paul Rudd coming on board, and many other smaller moments, and there were some low points – Rachel and Joey’s relationship being entirely unconvincing and silly.

Nope
Nope

So, for a few years there in my early teens Friends became required Friday night viewing, with each episode being discussed with…ahem… friends on Monday morning. It’s been a few years now since I’ve watched any of it, but I imagine it is still as fresh as ever, and those pieces that may not be so fresh will be saved by nostalgia – funny is always funny if the writing and performances are good. The show is definitely seen as a watershed of the 90s, but it was so smart, and had such an easy and smooth transition between slapstick, satire, pathos, romance, and tragedy, that it’s quality will always ensure it will be watchable. Anyone who ignored the show for any of the reasons I give above, or any other reason, I would advise you to give the show a try – a brief run of episodes in order would be best to get accustomed to the characters and not what you imagine them to be. Some of the acting in the first series isn’t great, but that is greatly improved by the time Season 2 comes along and many of the gimmicks are dropped. It’s a quick and easy show to watch, and there’s bound to be something you’ll enjoy in there.

Did you watch Friends religiously when it was first broadcast, or did you come to the show later? What are your favourite moments, episodes, and memories of watching? Let us know in the comments!

Sh*t I Watch – Game Of Thrones

In this latest series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourite TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular.

Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of. It’s my assumption in these posts, perhaps more than all the other junk on this blog, that you will get a murky picture of the person I both am and once was, and that maybe in a wider lens you’ll get a higher level look at the White, Western, child of the 80s. I’ll let you make your own conclusions, but the most obvious may be that we are what we consume, and our lives are rarely more than a procession of vicarious experience. Drill deeper though and we find a less bleak vision, seeing a communal, shared, loving experience as the most important moments of our lives as a species are no longer things like ‘Which Side Won The War’ or ‘Who Got To The Moon First’ or even ‘Why Are We Here’, but rather ‘Will Rachel And Ross Get It Together’ ‘Who Killed JR/Laura Palmer’ and ‘ WTF is Laddergoat’. Actually, that is kind of bleak. Today’s post is going to briefly summarize the show in question, and list a bunch of TV shows that I haven’t yet watched but which are on my ever-growing list. Between reading, writing, watching movies, playing guitar, playing videogames (on top of the real stuff like living, working, breathing, being married, and being a dad), there isn’t much time for me to watch TV. It used to be that any time a new, interesting show came out, I was first in the queue to see it, but now I tend to wait until a show has finished before I even start the first episode. We’ve all been burned in the past by a heinous cancellation, leaving unanswered questions and beloved characters forever suspended in a black hole of fan fiction and speculation; it hurts. A certain part of me only wants to invest my time in a show that I know has, or will fully run its course. I don’t need any more doubt, or imagination to take up my brain power.

My brain when Firefly was cancelled
My brain when Firefly was cancelled

Today’s show is a juggernaut, and arguably the most talked about and respected TV show of the last five years. Game Of Thrones is an epic tale featuring a massive cast of characters and places, with conspiracy, murder, deceit, boobs, and what am I even talking about you already know more about it than I do. I’ve known about the show for a long time, but until this year I hadn’t watched a single episode of it. I still haven’t read a single word of the books which the show is based on. My wife bought me the first three Seasons on DVD for Christmas and as of time of writing I have only seen up to the end of Season 3. I’m not going to give away any spoilers in these posts, either the ‘Sh*t I Watch’ or ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’, hopefully, and so let’s try to keep the comments Spoiler free too! I don’t know why it took me so long to watch the show – I think it’s a cultural thing – I’m not a huge fan of the country I was damned to and if people from here try to claim something as their own, or latch on to something in a popular way, I will generally go in the opposite direction. Of course, that isn’t being fair to the show itself, and it was clear that there was overwhelming critical praise, so after watching a bit of the pilot I decided to give it a go. As expected, it is a treat, but I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan, and I certainly wouldn’t say it is without its faults. For my two cents, I think there are too few episodes per Season, and I feel that something as large as this appears to be could easily be expanded into a few more episodes each year. For me, there seems to be too much rushing in each episode, and too little time spend with each set of characters. That’s obviously a personal and minor squabble because the show still works wonderfully well. There is a terrific cast of actors, the effort going in to making the show believable is second to none, and it’s always great to see violence and boobs. Do I think it’s better than Buffy? Well no, because nothing is better than Buffy.

Hi!
Hi!

I raise the Buffy issue as that’s the benchmark I use for all TV now – no other show has affected me on so many levels as it did, and does. It remains the funniest show I’ve ever seen, with the most well written characters, the best dialogue, the most brilliant plots, and has such a huge emotional power compared to any other show I’ve ever seen. GOT is far from being a comedy, and there are rarely any moments of humour – that’s fine, humour would be out-of-place here. GOT is all about the drama, but in drama you need to have elements of horror or tension, and certainly an emotional connection. I have found it difficult to truly ‘like’ or align myself with any character in the series so far – there are people I like and people I love to hate, of course, and maybe that is also supposed to be the point. Buffy did the same thing though – every character was flawed, but it didn’t make you love or hate them any less. One of the things GOT is also known for is something which Buffy doesn’t get the credit for (outside of the fandom) even though it can be argued that it started the whole thing – the idea, and the reality that no-one is safe. Major characters are killed off at will during GOT, to the point that, similar to The Walking Dead, we genuinely don’t know if anyone is going to make it out alive, and much of the tension in an episode is from our belief that someone we like could have their throat cut in the next scene. GOT has a massive list of characters, and many of those characters do not survive more than a handful of episodes. Buffy had a massive list of characters, alongside its spinoff Angel, and a tiny number of those survive to the end of the show.

I came in to GOT not really knowing much about it, and hoping/expecting a world similar to LOTR, a world of fantasy with Dragons, Orcs, and the like, but in reality those fantastical elements have been, so far, kept to a minimum. They are in the background, or they are older than the apparently modern, civilized world which the characters now live in. We do get Dragons, we do get creatures, but the series’ strength is in the clashing of the various houses and their respective values. In that respect the world mirrors our own, and there is a constant sense of fragility, a sense that a single injustice, misplaced word, or relationship gone sour could have apocalyptic ramifications. Like the real world, we have people who live only for honour, and those who only live for glory; those who seek personal gain at any cost, and others whose lives are merely more than a futile journey of vengeance. The best shows allow us to see ourselves, and our friends, and our world in what is presented on-screen, skewed just enough that we are happy to say at the end of an episode that ‘I would never do that’ or ‘that would never happen in my country’. Perhaps GOT’s greatest lesson is that we don’t always have control over our lives, and even the best laid plans can fall apart disastrously due to the smallest unexpected intervention; I think we can all agree that this lesson is one which is inescapable even in our own secluded lives.

Living only a few minutes drive from some of the shooting locations of the series gives an interesting additional dynamic to watching the show, both as a fan and as a fan of the craft; it’s fun trying to spot places you know and it’s cool knowing that there are talented people just down the road making positive history. I’m keen to see what happens in Season 4 and 5 and I’m keen to get started on the books, and while I’m not going to say I’m a GOT nerd, I will say I’m a fan.

Bonus Material Alert! Below is a list of shows I haven’t yet watched a single episode of, but which are on my list. Feel free to let me know in the comments what you think I should watch, or add anything which I haven’t listed – if it’s recent, I probably haven’t seen it.

24

Arrested Development

Boardwalk Empire

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Deadwood

Dexter (watched 1 episode but wife decided she didn’t want to watch any more)

Entourage

Eureka

Falling Skies

Friday Night Lights

Fringe

Generation Kill

Hannibal

Jericho

Justified

Mad Men

One Upon A Time

Orange Is The New Black

Parks And Recreation

Penny Dreadful

Person Of Interest

Rome

Spartacus

Sons Of Anarchy

The Americans

The Pacific

The Sopranos

The Shield

The Wire

True Blood

True Detective

Veronica Mars

Z Nation

Sh*t I Used To Watch/Sh*t I Watch

In this latest series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourite TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular. Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of.

It’s my assumption in these posts, perhaps more than all the other junk on this blog, that you will get a murky picture of the person I both am and once was, and that maybe in a wider lens you’ll get a higher level look at the White, Western, child of the 80s. I’ll let you make your own conclusions, but the most obvious may be that we are what we consume, and our lives are rarely more than a procession of vicarious experience. Drill deeper though and we find a less bleak vision, seeing a communal, shared, loving experience as the most important moments of our lives as a species are no longer things like ‘Which Side Won The War’ or ‘Who Got To The Moon First’ or even ‘Why Are We Here’, but rather ‘Will Rachel And Ross Get It Together’ ‘Who Killed JR/Laura Palmer’ and ‘ WTF is Laddergoat’. Actually, that is kind of bleak.

In today’s post, I will be looking at one of the seminal after-school comedies of my childhood, one backed by a legion of talent and which is still spoken of today in Holy terms.

Maid Marian And Her Merry Men ran for a glorious 5 years from 1989 to 1994, though in that time a meagre 26 episodes were produced. I think those episodes have been repeated several times over the years as I remember watching them during my mid teen years, and laughing my balls off all over again. But, what is the show about, some of you may be asking? The show is very British and features many, many in jokes and topical humour which you’ll likely only ‘get’ if you’re from England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland. However, the humour is so sharp and wide-ranging that there is much to enjoy here for anyone with a sense of humour, from childhood to adulthood. Having watched some highlights recently on Youtube to see if it still holds up, the answer is a resounding YES.

The show a cross between Monty Python and Blackadder, but aimed at a younger audience, and set around the Robin Hood mythology. The central twist in the tale is that our hero, Robin Hood, is in fact a big sissy, getting by on an invented reputation and that it is actually Maid Marian who is the brains and brawn of the operation. We also have the band of Merry Men, each wonderfully written and with twists upon the character you know from legend – the show had such a power on me that it’s difficult for me to take the ‘real’ Robin Hood characters over the ones here. Each episode basically follows the misadventures of Ye Goodies as they try to mess up the plans of the wicked Sheriff Of Nottingham, King John, and his assorted Goons.

Episodes featured slapstick humour, offbeat, bizarre, and wacky plots, and lots of wonderful songs which will get stuck in your head for days. My favourite though was the satire and how the show would blend its historical setting to modern-day issues, with frequent meta references to movies and TV. I remember when I first watched Prince Of Theives I was laughing my head off that the actor of played Rabies appeared, and that later the show parodied both that movie, and his appearance. The show was always one that I talked about with friends of a similar mind in school the next day, particularly on the reruns, as you could tell instantly the caliber of a person by whether they appreciated the show or not (Spoiler – if you don’t like this, you’re a moron).

As I’ve been typing this, the wonderful theme music hasn’t left my brain – once heard never forgot. I admit I had a big crush on Marian when I was younger, as played by Kate Lonergan. According to various site, Lonergan has since left acting after featuring in a small number of other movies and TV shows, a pity as she was such a delight, but if she’s happy I’m happy. Other talents in the show included Tony Robinson (Blackadder, Time Team), Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf, Blade II), Mike Edmonds (Return Of The Jedi, Dark Crystal) and a host of other familiar British actors. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – as a child of the 80s, we truly did grow up in a Golden Age of Kids TV – and not only from an animated perspective. Aside from all the kid oriented movies of the time, from The Goonies To The Karate Kid and beyond, we had shows like this to give us hope and entertainment and respite from the grim realities of school, homework, and just being young and frustrated, defenseless and voiceless. I think this will be a recurring thought over the rest of these posts.

If you’re interested, please seek out this wonderful series – available to purchase on DVD, and many clips available to browse on streaming sites. You’ll be a better person for it. If you have fond memories of the show, feel free to drop a comment below and if you’re particularly bitter you can even shake your fist at the sky and scream about how they don’t make kids shows like this any more!

My Favourite 60 (ish) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episodes – Part 4 (Season 4)

buffy_logo

In honour of the 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 4

Season 4, like Season 1, is more of an origin Season, or a mini-linking Season between the Main Plot Bonanza of 2-3 and 5-7. A lot of new characters are introduced, some old favourites leave, or have vanished already, and perhaps most importantly School is left behind and College/University is here. As expected, there is a loss of familiarity throughout the season for the viewers and the characters, and it doesn’t always pay off – at times it feels like a different show.

As you’ll see below from he number of episodes I’ve picked, this isn’t my favourite season. I’ll admit though, it is probably the funniest season of the bunch, with many standalone comedy episodes. What I love best about Buffy (or at least one of the most important pieces) is how it blends comedy, drama, tragedy, action horror all together – Season 4 has a fairly low emotional drive – it’s all comedy and action, with little horror or drama. Unlike others though, I never had much of a problem with The Initiative or Riley. I thought The Initiative was a good idea, which wasn’t pulled off as well as it could have been, again due to real emotional connection. I can’t stand Maggie Walsh – annoying character, acted badly in my humble, against the grain opinion. Adam was an ok baddie, but I never felt the threat as with Angel or The Mayor. As a linking Season I guess Buffy and her friends needed a break from all the trauma already suffered and that yet to come.

Living Conditions

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Yum

While Season Pilot The Freshman deals (wonderfully) largely with the excitement, fear, and possible loss (or discovery) of self which can happen in those first days and weeks of going off to University, Living Conditions is the come-down, dealing instead with the annoyances of coping with new people in confined spaces and striking that balance between new maturity and fun. Anyone who moved away from home in their youth, particularly those going to College, will find this episode particularly relatable. On the surface it is a silly, funny, Monster Of The Week episode which doesn’t really tie in with the Season Arc, there are underlying moments which hint at or discuss many of the themes which will be prevalent throughout Season 4; nobody trusts Buffy, and she feels like she is on her own, Oz sees Veruca for the first time, we see (without explanation) the Initiative Commando’s, and we meet everyone’s favourite heart-throb Parker for the first time.

Putting all of those moments aside, this is all about humour, and particularly the brilliant writing and Gellar’s wildly underrated comic abilities. Gellar is superb throughout, with super close-ups of her reactions, from gulping milk, to cringing at Cher, to many wonderful moments shared with Oz – moments which are too few and far between over the course of the whole show.

Favourite Moment: Buffy downing that milk – oh man, that is comedy genius, and if everyone watched a gif of that every morning, the world would be a better place.

Pangs

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Yum

Arguably the funniest episode of the whole of BTVS, Pangs sees fantastic comedy turns from everyone, with Spike getting most of the best moments. Five episodes lie between this and Living Conditions, and by this point in the series, the main arcs are in full swing – Spike has returned to Sunnydale and has been captured by, and escaped from The Initiative, and Buffy has been spending time with Riley. This episode sees Spike’s futile attempts at getting food, hindered by the chip which he has been implanted with, rendering him harmless to humans, while Xander and his fellow builders accidentally uncover a buried temple. Nothing buried in Sunnydale is ever good, so when Native American spirits begin murdering people and spreading STDs, it’s down to Buffy and the gang to save the day. On top of all that, this is a crossover episode as Angel comes to Sunnydale after Doyle gets a vision saying she is in trouble. There’s a lot to pack in, but as is true for many of the episodes this Season, all of the details can be glossed over in favour of the laughs.

And boy there are a lot of laughs. From Anya’s imaginings of having sex with Xander, to Spike’s banter with Harmony and attempts to get the psychological upper hand, and survive a siege whilst tied to a chair, this is less of a laugh a minute, more of a laugh every 10 seconds. This episode sets up the future wonderful scenes between Spike and Giles and Spike and Xander, and it’s this episode which truly brings Spike into the fold as part of the regular Scooby fixtures. A few commentators have commented on the racially insensitive plot – I think the writers wanted to actually make a point about the White Man killing all, but don’t manage to pull it off. Aside from some such gripes, this is another breathless lesson in comedy, and one which you will be hurting from afterwards thanks to those laughs – if you follow this up with Angel’s I Will Remember You though, you’ll need to hold those laughs dear to make it through that tearjerker.

Favourite Moment: Buffy makes a bear and Spike is not impressed.

Something Blue

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Um

Following on from the antics of Pangs is another wonderful laugh out loud episode. Spike is still living with Giles drinking pig’s blood in exchange for giving information. While useful info is not forthcoming, he does show his abilities at seeing what no-one else can, namely that Willow is in great pain. Willow’s powers as a Witch are growing, but she is having difficulty coping with the pain of losing Oz. To try to cope, she drunkenly casts a spell to make her pain go away, but somehow instead gives herself the power to make anything she says come true – Giles becomes blind, Amy briefly turns human, then back to a rat, Xander becomes a magnet for demons, and Buffy and Spike fall adorably in love and announce their marriage. It’s almost a fun mockery of magic and how the series deals with magic, throwing in as many ridiculous circumstances as possible. However, there is obvious (whether deliberate or not) foreshadowing of Willow’s future – her growing power, her reliance on magic, her lack of skill coping with loss, her sexuality, and her future as a force of destruction.

Before the darkness of the next two seasons descend though, the central tone of the episode is much lighter – the characters get into various scrapes, but it’s all humourous and there is no real threat or danger. It’s the utter confusion and chaos between each character, and the reactions of each character to what is happening which brings the laughs. The dialogue is whipsmart and fast-paced, the look on the face of Buffy when she announces she’s getting married, the cute flirting which goes on, and the shocked faces of Xander and Giles are perfect, while references to Wind Beneath My Wings, wedding invitations, and other plans are gold.

Favourite Moment: Xander’s triple question reaction to Buffy’s engagement.

Hush

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(c)Um

Well, of course this one was going to be here. From a gimmick point of view, from a novelty standpoint, it’s a critical darling. For me though, it was superb writing and plenty of chills, and builds upon the gimmick of no sound by having the plot and character interaction play just as important a role – lesser shows have attempted the same sort of thing, but have failed miserably. Hush is a clear fan favourite too, appearing on probably every fan’s top 10 episodes. It is almost the perfect Monster Of The Week episode – we have a deadly villain who the gang have to investigate and destroy, the characters are put in jeopardy, and they are acting in an unusually weakened state due to losing their ability to communicate vocally. The particular monster – The Gentlemen, are a particularly memorable bunch – genuinely creepy, and filling the episodes with both dread and jump scares. Indeed, The Gentlemen are frequently voted as the best, and most terrifying bad guys in the whole of Buffy. Their gaping, razor-toothed grins, their silent floating, the calm and… happy way they go about their horrific business, all makes a memorable whole. The fact that they steal your voice and surgically rip out your heart helps too. However, as much as I love them, I don’t find them as terrifying as most fans – I find them quite jovial. I’m actually more disturbed by their bandaged henchmen – wobbling disfigured humanoid creatures who twist and spin about wildly, doing the bidding of their masters. What’s their story? Are they reanimated former victims – tortured into a future of blind obedient horror?

The episode pulls together a bunch of dangling threads from the Season so far – the group have been split this Season more than before, with new friends joining the fold and others leaving or featuring less. Certain members feel like they have metaphorically lost their voice already, and it takes something as drastic as the mass void of sound to make the group come together and flow as a unit like in earlier Seasons. Spike is dealing with being neutered by bitching and annoying everyone, Giles is trying to adapt to no longer being a librarian and having less contact with Buffy, Anya is annoyed that Xander can’t vocalize his love, while Willow is growing frustrated that she doesn’t have an outlet for her growing magical talent, and that the Wicca group is more interested in chat than action. Buffy and Riley are also looking for action of a different kind, but their respect secret identities are getting in the way of their relationship. By the time the episode ends, Buffy and Riley’s secrets are revealed to each other Willow has found a peer in Tara, Giles is left alone again, and Anya and Xander continue having sex.

The episode is notoriously inventive – with the Scoobies having to use a projector to discuss their investigative thoughts in one of the show’s best scenes. For a show known in its early years for witty dialogue, it was a brave move to abandon one of its best qualities for much of the episode. The show relies heavily on sound, with music being an important emotive force – again this is largely cut and replaced with a chilling, effective suite with fairytale qualities. It is apt that Buffy’s scream destroys the monsters, and apt again that having finally found her voice again, she is still unable to speak with Riley at the end. It’s a triumph by what was one of the most talented teams in TV.

Favourite Moment: A toss-up (ahem) between Buffy’s staking motion mime, Anya’s sex mime, and of course, those lovely drawing by Giles.

This Year’s Girl

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Run

Remember school? Remember Season 3? Remember Faith? For fans watching for the first time, the question of whether or not Faith would ever return is finally answered in this episode in the affirmative. If there’s one thing the appearance of Eliza Dushku’s Faith does for an episode, it’s increase the energy. Her boundless energy screams across the screen, giving everything urgency, and her fight scenes with Buffy are always a highlight – usually more violent and action packed than other fights. We get plenty of energy and urgency in this episode – the first part of a two parter – a two-parter that also features as a crossover with Angel.

 The episode beings with a dream sequence – we’ve had a few of these before and we know that a Slayer’s dreams are often portents. We do get foreshadowing here (little sis) and the dream ends violently with Buffy stabbing Faith. We learn that this is actually Faith dreaming, still in a coma, and these dreams, or nightmares, appear to be frequent occurrences – another dream later in the episode features The Mayor and Faith having a picnic, a touching moment, but ruined when Buffy appears, kills The Mayor and again stabs Faith, but Faith later overcomes Dream Buffy and wakes from her coma. While all this is going on, we have the side story of Buffy and Riley chatting about their work and choices, while Willow and Tara get closer. All of this culminates in a superb couple of sequences – Faith watching the video of The Mayor, and Faith’s sudden attack on Buffy at campus, and capping it all off, a brutal fight in Buffy’s house where we learn that the pair have switched bodies.

Much of the episode feels like a prologue to Who Are You, but we get a lot of insight into Faith’s character here. It feels like a goodbye for Faith’s story from the previous Season – we have watched Buffy and Co gradually move away from High School over the course of the Season, but Faith has to do that in the span of a single episode – she learns that she lost, that her truest father figure is dead, and that Buffy seems to still live in a rosy paradise. The dream sequences are interesting – it’s nice to see Faith as the victim and Buffy as the monster.

Favourite Moment: Although Tara’s attempts at punches are pretty funny, that fight scene at the end is epic, one of the most violent in the show’s history, and ends with an awesome twist.

Who Are You

Fun
Fun

We pick up pretty much immediately from where we left off – Buffy and Faith have switched bodies – Faith is living it up with Joyce and The Scoobies, and Buffy has been taken away in an ambulance, then a police car, then an armoured track driven by Watcher’s Council members – it’s tough being popular. Faith… explores Buffy’s body…. and then variously interacts with the gang, shocking Tara, voice sexing Spike, and sex sexing Riley. Throughout these interactions we watch the gradual disintegration of Faith – each time someone shows her kindness or gratitude, it rattles her, bringing out unexpected feelings of guilt and happiness. This confusion leads her to want to get away from everything, first fleeing to the airport, but then returning to rescue hostages of Adam’s vampire group. It’s a nice way to both finish off Faith’s early storyline, and set up her redemption arc.

While Faith is growing, Buffy needs to use her skills to evade the Watcher’s Council. Learning that they are going to kill her, she beats them and escapes, leading to a humourous encounter with Giles, where she reminds him of his body switching, mother lovin’ past. Once again Buffy and Faith clash, with Faith (as Buffy) destroying Buffy (as Faith) in the midst of a breakdown. Buffy gets the upper hand, switching bodies again, while Faith escapes. We meet up with Faith again in LA, where she clashes with Angel and the gang, eventually turning towards the righteous path in a story that echoes Angel’s own past.

This is a wonderful episode for the fans, with a bunch of important continuity and references which reward long time viewers. There is character growth, largely on Faith’s part, we get more of Tara meeting the gang, we get some funny moments, more crushing fights, and two amazing performances from Gellar and Dushku – once again the actors on this show are incredible. This current run of form in the 4th Season is remarkable -it’s just a pity that we didn’t get a decent Big Bad to truly spark fear or emotional concern.

Favourite Moment: Faith trying out Buffy’s body in the mirror – that’s gots to be everyone’s favourite scene, right?

Superstar

Glum
Glum

Woo hoo, another event episode, the middle part of the Season’s ‘Event Trilogy’. Hush had no dialogue, Restless is a Lynch inspired mess, while Superstar flips the Buffyverse on its head, giving an alternate vision of Sunnydale – a Sunnydale where our little friend Jonathan is a hero which men, women, and Slayers worship. It’s a fun episode, taking us back the central comedy stylings of the series. This episode seems to get a lot of criticism from fans, mostly because they don’t like Jonathan – I’ve always liked Jonathan, but again this is another well written piece of comedy, another interesting look at one of the most important, long serving side characters, and features laid-back, fun performances from all.

The episode sees Jonathan casting a spell on Sunnydale which turns him into a Superstar – actor, musician, demon-slaying hero, military mastermind, all-round genius, and ladies man, with everyone worshipping him. This leads to a lot of humour and interesting interaction, but it isn’t long before the gang realises that something isn’t quite right. It’s interesting that Adam is able to see through the lie immediately, the spell not impacting him, and equally interesting that the gang is able to remember the events and the feelings after the spell is destroyed. There is a fair amount of foreshadowing, with the gang learning of a potential weakness of Adam’s, with Jonathan learning, and showing some skill with magic – not to mention his continuing desire to bend the world to the way he wants it to be and need to be part of a loving family.

Overall this is a silly, throwaway episode, but one with a lot of fun antics and nods to pop culture, such as Jonathan starring as Neo in The Matrix. It’s not the strongest of the alternate reality episodes, but it’s nice to see a Jonathan-centric episode, and always funny watching the group react to bizarre changes.

Favourite Moment: Giles admitting he has a Jonathan swimsuit calendar.

Restless

Hmm
Hmm

The strangest finale of any Buffy series, and the strangest episode in all of the Buffy/Angel canon, Restless is a critic’s dream – an experimental episode merging dreams, foreshadowing, memories in a non-linear structure, wrapped around a loose plot and filled with memorable, cryptic dialogue, and even more memorable, cryptic imagery. It’s the stuff that bad essays are written on. Call it Lynchian, call it weird – it all at once is skippable and unmissable, unimportant and vital.

After an action packed, but emotion-lite true finale in Primeval where the group dispatched of Adam thanks to an uber-joining-spell, the Scoobies meet at Buffy’s house for a night of relaxing, movies, and chat. The group fall asleep and begin having strange dreams – the episode showing us the dreams of Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy in succession. The dreams flow like actual dream, with reality bending wildly, and characters appearing and disappearing without explanation, and saying and acting in strange ways. In each dream it appears that the dreamer is being stalked by a malevolent force, each dream ending with the dreamer being killed. It turns out that The First Slayer is not impressed by Buffy, woken by the joining spell in the previous episode, and is punishing her by killing her friends. In a Nightmare On Elm Street inspired ending, Buffy mentally defeats her foe, and everyone wakes up and discusses. The episode ends with Buffy staring, confused into her bedroom while Tara’s voice from Buffy’s dream again says that Buffy has no idea what is coming.

Phew, as mentioned, there are many terrible essays about this episode, and many well written pieces made by people much better and more dedicated than me. They go into minute detail on each dream, each word, incident, colour, speck. I won’t be doing that here, but I’ll cover briefly the main points in each dream, starting with Willow. Willow’s dream, like those of the others, centres on fear, her fear being that she could return to the mousey, nervous, no-friends Willow of the past after growing into a strong, independent woman. Willow is transported back to school, long hair, loser clothes and all, and is put on stage again recalling some Season 1 antics and fears. Willow eventually is attacked by The First Slayer and has her spirit sucked away. Xander fears are also adolescent and mirror many he has shown throughout the season – that everyone else is moving on while he is trapped in a loop, never maturing, never leaving his parents’ basement. Also punctuating the dream is, of course, a bunch of sex, with the notorious line ‘Do you wanna come in the back with us’ escaping censorship. He eventually has his heart pulled out.

Giles sings and acts as a father figure in his dream, one which is more concerned about anxiety than fear, and as he works out what is going on, the First Slayer removes his head. Buffy’s dream features a cryptic-speak Tara, a wall-living Joyce, a Dictator Riley,  and various other quick-fire interactions before she confronts the First Slayer and defeats her. Buffy’s dream foreshadows her own death, the death of her mother, and the appearance of Dawn, and the episode acts (only upon recollection) as a nice bridge into the much darker 5th Season. It would have been nice if some of the other characters from previous seasons had made an appearance – Angel, Cordelia, Amy, Miss Calendar, Faith, even Larry were all meant to appear, but were eventually written out or replaced later. As tragic as that is, it’s great to see Oz and Snyder for one last time, and Harmony pops up in an amusing cameo. An utterly confusing episode for a newcomer, but wonderfully rewarding for the long time fan, especially on re-watch. I remember enjoying this first time around, and of course being a little bemused by it all, but it’s an episode that grows in stature with each watch. Oh, there’s also some moron with cheese.

Favourite Moment: Probably something from Xander’s dream, either the cool sets that he runs and crawls and climbs through only to keep appearing in his basement, or Snyder’s Col. Kurtz scene.

Well, there you have it – my favourite episodes in Season 4. The laughter is done, and all we have left to look forward to is darkness, death, and despair, otherwise known as Seasons 5, 6, and 7. Chime in below with your favourite episodes from Season 4, and your favourite moments. And don’t forget to check out the other Season recaps here:

 Season 1: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/my-favourite-60-ish-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-episodes-part-1-seasons-1/

Season 2: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/my-favourite-60-ish-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-episodes-part-2-season-2/

Season 3:https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/my-favourite-60-ish-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-episodes-part-3-season-3/