Saturday, 24 May 2014

Broken Arrow

A lot of people use their blog or Facetwit account to pass judgement on TV shows and films and the like, talking all big and clever about what’s wrong with this series or that sequel as if they’re a proper grown-up critic. Like Gary Bushell or Paul Ross. Not me. I wouldn’t pretend to speak with any such authority on so lazy a topic. Not me. Oh no. No no no no no no no. Nooooo.

But just this once I feel I have to make an exception. Because the subject matter is so very close to my heart, and something that touches us all.

I am of course talking about what’s wrong with the disappointing superhero TV series Arrow and how I would fix it.

Disclaimer time: I’ve only seen the second series, or season if we’re going to be all American about it, so my impression of its disappointingness may – may – stem from having missed a load of cool stuff in the first season, which would have given the second season a lot more emotional impact. Possibly. But man, if an entire 22 episode season can’t stand on its own two feet and welcome new viewers in with a manly hug, then it has no business clogging up my Thursday nights (repeated Fridays).

To start with, the title. Arrow. Not Green Arrow, like in the comic. No, that would've been faaar too cheesy, apparently. Just Arrow, which is – in the show – Oliver Queen’s not-so secret identity (I mean, really; how many people know this guy’s secret? By the end of the season it’s practically everyone in the cast apart from his fantastically unobservant sister). And it’s not like everyone in the show uses the name Arrow when talking about ‘that guy with the bow who runs around talking with a gruff voice’ anyway. No, most of them refer to him as ‘the Vigilante’. Which I kinda get, if the intention is to play the long game here and create the classic comic character in season-long increments – season one he learns not to kill, season two he learns to be hero, season three he puts on the cute little Robin Hood hat from the comics and grows a funky chinbeard. I can but hope.

Hurrah for Neal Adams.
The reason it’s just called Arrow is because the producers are too darn embarrassed to come out of the super-closet with a dude called Green Arrow who shoots boxing glove projectiles, more’s the pity. The show is generally far too shame-faced to go the whole hog and be a balls-out supershow. I swear I’ve seen episodes where he doesn’t once don the Green Hoody of Justice, and just bimbles around in a tux whining about his mommy and his widdle pal Tommy. This isn’t a big effects-heavy character, people! He shoots arrows, in a costume. They’re not constrained by the budget for that surely? This isn’t Superman we’re talking about, or the old Incredible Hulk show, where they were limited to two meagre 5-minute segments of Lou Ferrigno in green bodypaint each episode.

But y’know, I could forgive Arrow its coyness about masks and capes if the central characters, and the actors behind them, could hold down the story without the costumed heroics. But honestly, just picture Arrow without even the existing low-rent spandexed action. What you’re left with is this: a family of rich dullards argue a lot whilst a family of cops and lawyers argue a lot, whilst a forgettable dweeb runs for mayor and two nonthreatening friends sit and worry about the unshaven rich kid. What we have here is a very standard soap from the 80s with flashbacks to the island from Lost and a bit of archery every now and again.

Honestly, it took me about 6 episodes to work out which 25-year old female character was which – Dumb Sister, Lawyer Ex or Speccy Techie. I think they have names but apart from the excellent Felicity Smoak, I truly cannot remember.

And as for the rest of the supporting cast in this season, they are little better in the making the most of their screen time. There’s Harry Dresden as concerned Cop Dad, who seems to have fractured his dentures in the last two episodes, making him sound like a dodgy Bogart impersonator. Then there’s Slade ‘You killed Shado’ Wilson – a character who’s a cool white haired killer in the comics with genuine charm and personality, but in the TV show he’s a grumpy Aussie beefcake who lacks believable menace.

Which brings us to John Diggle, a role embodying the unfortunately overused cliché of Reliable Black Buddy. The character not only reinforces an unfortunate white hero / black sidekick trend, but is just so predictable and boring, not least because the character of Diggle is so terribly correct and devoid of depth.

I do wonder who the show is aimed at. There’s death and destruction a-plenty to be sure – one series regular does indeed properly die toward the end of the second season – but there’s no blood and gore and most of the action seems strangely unthrilling. There’s drama, but it really is of the soapy variety, plucking out tried and trusted threads like ‘losing control of the family business’, ‘love triangle’ and ‘your real father is actually…’ from the Dallas bargain bin. The language is, as I recall, pretty inoffensive (though you must remember that I have a dreadfully foul vocabulary so I tend to miss all but the most DerekandClivish of cusswords), so again, it’s aiming presumably for a fairly familyish audience, even if there is the odd impaled-by-a-katana moment, but surely we’re all inured to such sights by now.

So taking all that into consideration, my perception is that Arrow is aimed at a younger, familier, possibly femaler audience than one may have expected from a show about a bow-wielding vigilante. I’m just surprised it wasn’t on at 6:30 on a Saturday afternoon.

Insert sound effect of arrow hitting tree here.
Okay enough rambling. Let’s pick on just a specific few elements of Arrow that contribute to make it the mediocre experience it is:

Main guy. DULL. I don’t know his name. It’s probably Josh Something. I suppose he got the role of Oliver Queen because of his impressive physique and that cool thing he does with the gym equipment and the climbing bar. But really, you need more personality from the show’s lead than what Josh Something can offer. Oliver Queen in the comics has been portrayed as an outraged anti-establishment radical, a sassy derring-doer and a world-weary middle-aged loner. A youthful fuzzface with one expression – grim-jawed determination - appeals not to me.

It's called a salmon ladder. Who knew?
Island Flashbacks. BORING. Long-haired Oliver and Canarygirl sit in a wrecked aircraft in the dark or a big ship in the dark or a submarine in the dark. A lot of scruffy people get picked off one by one. We all know he’s going to get off the island. We all know he’s going to stick an arrow in Slade’s eye. The only thing we don’t know is why every bloody episode is padded out with 10-15 minutes of this wheel-spinning tedium.

Every Single Character. FAR TOO EARNEST. Where’s the lightness? The dead-pan snarker? The sexiness, even? Every character in it is so darned dour. Maybe it’s the dialogue. I think there was a hint of a giggling Harley Quinn in one episode, but they clearly got too scared to put a proper balls-out psycho in the show and decided to stick with a bunch of conflicted I’m-A-Killer-But-I-Have-Issues characters instead.

Skinny attractive young Amanda Walker. WRONG. Amanda Walker is a well-stuffed middle-aged woman in the comics, which at the time of her introduction made her stand out amongst all the forgettably fit characters. Roll on twenty years to the TV show and… it’s supermodel Amanda! Gaaah. She should have been played by CCH Pounder as all right thinking people know. She could even reuse her outfits from Warehouse 13.
Hurrah for John Byrne.
Oliver Queen, master archer. REALLY? Let’s see some cool arrow skills, for Hood’s sake. Some one in a million shots and really impressive camerawork. Sure, he does the archery thing a lot, but you get the impression he’s no better than anyone else who can afford a funky recurve. In fact by the end of the season there are several hooded dudes and ninjas running round with bows who seem no better or worse than Ollie himself. Show that he’s the World’s Greatest Archer or just give him a pugil stick from Gladiators and have done with it.

So here, eventually, is my recipe for improving Arrow in the future.

Recast everyone. Fast forward five years to justify the recast. Or hell, I dunno, move it all to Earth-2. Grab a bunch of decent actors from one of the sweary HBO series or just admit defeat and only use British actors. Get people who are going to chew the scenery a little, like the evil queen in Once Upon A Time or indeed Robert Carlyle from the same. Anyone that is, apart from Mark (A.) Sheppard, the one-note character actor who infests the green lawn of my viewing habits like a mole with an Equity card. I swear if he pops up in one more sci-fi show doing exactly the same character, why I’ll…

Flash Fact: Sheppard's real-live dad Morgan played the older version of this character in Dr Who.
Crowley in Supernatural
Forgettable Asshole in Warehouse 13
Romo Lampkin - Battlestar's Oirish shyster 
Badger. Firefly's shameful future for the British
Drop the flashbacks for flashbacks’ sake. They make me yawn. We know Ollie survives all the flashbacks, so apart from introducing new characters and subplots that he’s conveniently forgotten up until now, they serve no purpose.

Less soap, more drama. Lose the family crap and the business rubbish. This guy’s supposed to be a hero – a superhero – not Bobby Ewing with a stubble. There are decades of comic plot to plunder before you should have to re-imagine Dynasty with arrows.

No-one ever says ‘You let Shado die’ ever again. So done with that.

This. Is. Acting.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Not A Weeping Gorilla Moment

First off, I want to make it clear that this is not a rant.

It’s all too easy to label any speech or article longer than a couple of paragraphs about the more negative aspects of someone’s outlook on life as a rant. And let’s face it, the medium of the blog is an ideal platform for shouting incoherently and at great length: there’s no space limit, no time limit, no editor, and the audience is safely tucked away on the other side of the screen rather than staring in aghast shock across the dinner table as you inadvisably launch into the third act of your ‘political bias in Radio 4 comedy panel shows’ monologue. Now that, that was a rant.

That’s not to say I don’t like a good rant myself. Long-time readers may well have cause to agree. But I like to think that however long-winded and impassioned I get, there is at least the illusion of coherency and perhaps on occasion the odd chuckle too. Those  Grumpy Old Men and Women rant. So does Charlie Brooker and half the columnists in the Sunday newspapers. Bill Hicks ranted, in E-Minor at that, so I'm in good company.

So this isn't a rant. It’s not that impassioned.

It may well be a diatribe, but I'm too pig-ignorant to know and too lazy to look it up.
Or possibly a harangue. Is that a noun? A haranguing? Harangitude? Whatever.

Nor is it a Weeping Gorilla moment. It’s not that depressing.

What do you mean, ‘What’s a Weeping Gorilla?’

Tch. Honestly. As any fule kno, the Weeping Gorilla was a secondary character in Alan Moore’s splendid comic series Promethea, cropping up on billboards and posters in the background as a perennially downhearted ape expressing a series of mid-life disappointments in brief, passive-aggressive thought bubbles:


Poor old Weeping Gorilla. Cheer up, you miserable bugger.

So no, this isn't a Weeping Gorilla moment either. It’s a… I dunno, a minor rubbish moan. Probably a First World Problem.

(scurries off to look up First World Problems)

Yeah, it’s definitely one of them.

So here’s my problem. I've just had a slightly disappointing experience reading a hardback collection of the comic series Scarlet.

For goodness’ sake – ‘hardback collection of the comic series’. What am I like? Why did I use such a roundabout way of describing it? Isn't it just a comic? Well yes, I spose. But it’s like really mature with swearing and everything.  Doesn't that make it a graphic novel then? Well, not exactly, because it’s just the first few issues of a monthly series collected together in a posh hardback – not a complete story. In retrospect I probably should have just called it Scarlet Book 1 in the first place and let you work out that it’s a comic. Of course it’s a comic – this is me. So let’s just skip over this entire paragraph and speak no more of the tedious matter of definition.

I was reading the story. It was quite entertaining. It was written by the prolific Brian Michael Bendis, so I knew straight away that it would a) be dialogue heavy, and b) contain numerous double pages that I wouldn't be sure if you’re supposed to read all the way across as a two-page spread or up and down like a normal pair of pages. Curse you, Bendis. Curse you for writing several issues of The Avengers where Earth’s Mightiest Heroes do little more than sit around a kitchen table in their civvies and flap their lips about baby-sitters.

Sorry, I got distracted by Bendis. This isn't about him, though he does annoy me. The problem I had was this: I’d read most of the book, and was kind of enjoying it. I’d budgeted a certain amount of time this morning to read the book before getting on with my day; doing the washing up, arranging the pile of scrap paper by the telephone, that sort of thing. I’d read most of it, but I could see there was still a couple of chapters left to go. I turned the page and


Oh great. A cover gallery. No more story. The rest of the book was padding: Covers. Variant covers by different artists. The same covers but in black and white. A script of issue #1 with scribble on it. 43 pages of padding. I’d peaked too soon, well before my estimated Time To Complete Reading.

If this was a DVD I’d probably be quite pleased by this so-called ‘added content’. But if this was a DVD, it’d be like expecting there to be thirty minutes of the movie left and then discovering that the last half an hour is actually a bunch of trailers for the movie you've just (partially) seen.


Harangitude over. I’ll try to be briefer next time.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Rupert Affair


Living in an apartment block can be an oddly isolating business. Despite having neighbours above, below and to either side of us, we rarely see them. It’s odd to think that your bedroom must be within 30 feet of at least 4 other bedrooms full of other people sleeping - and doing other stuff - but you could go days or weeks without seeing those people. And if you live in a modern - by which I mean ‘tissue-thin walled’- apartment, you might hear your neighbours but you won’t often see them. The dull distorted bass of a TV next door, the patter of a toddler’s feet above, the slam of the front door a few floors below, might well be the extent of their impact on your life.

Good, you might say. The last thing you want is to be aware of your neighbours’ comings and goings. Their late-night rows during summer when the windows are open, their horrible boiled cabbage cooking seeping up through the extractor fans, their nasty chain-smoking out on the balcony just below your busy lizzies. This is true; those are all unpleasant aspects of living cheek by jowl, but it can be just as weird when you just don’t see your neighbours at all.

You know they’re there. Cars appear and disappear outside. Apartment doors open and close. Washing machines vibrate and drains gurgle. But you never meet, you rarely even see your fellow rezzies. Oh, maybe a fleeting nod of acknowledged existence as you pass in the car park, but that’s practically it. Without front gardens and drives, there’s no common area; no reason to linger or potter. We all trot smartly from our cars to the front door, up the stairs and into our hermetically-sealed broadbanned habivirons every evening, only to reverse the process in the morning on our way back out into the world.

The only folks with a reason to bump into other people are the dog-walkers. A couple of times I've tried to join in on one of their impromptu gatherings in the car park, idly passing the time as their respective pooches get down to some serious mutual bum-sniffing. But it always feels weird if you haven’t got a dog yourself, like being the only single person at a dinner party or some kind of pervy dog-hag. I have honestly considered walking around the estate with a realistic toy dog on a lead just to give me the excuse to hang out with all the cool dog people.

* * *

But all that changed about a year ago, when this new guy moved in upstairs, and we just started sort of seeing each other.

At first Herself and I didn't know his name. We just called him 24, after the number of his apartment. He moved in with some other folks, but he doesn't seem to be that close to them, spending a fair bit of time out in the hallways and stairwells, just hanging around. But not in a threatening way. He just has that kind of look, you know? Like he just enjoys his own space. After a while we learnt that his name’s Rupert.

He’s often coming in as we’re going out, or vice versa, so it was just natural that we've got to know each other. To start with we wouldn't really talk as such, just say hello as we went about our days. But that was enough, at first. Just that simple contact with someone else.

Of course it didn't stop there. It couldn't. He’s come into our place a couple of times now, curious I guess to see how it compares to his own apartment on the floor above. Would you believe the first thing he did was run into the bedroom for a look round? Amazing. He seems to have no concept of privacy, but for some reason he gets away with it. He has that kind of a face, I suppose.

What’s grown over this last year is an odd, episodic sort of relationship – sometimes just him and me, sometimes him and Herself, sometimes all three of us. Whatever; it all feels fine, comfortable with each other. Just a few minutes of brief contact out in the corridor, rarely speaking. A few minutes of physical contact, perhaps a few nibbles or some simple stroking and nuzzling. That’s enough for all of us, and then we get on with our respective lives. You might say that sounds cold, mechanical, almost business-like, but it’s really not. Just uncomplicated. Wonderfully uncomplicated.

And so this strange affair with Rupert carries on to this day. The only dark shadow in our little world is his family upstairs. They don’t know about us, about what we have together. I don’t think they’d like it if they knew. It’s been close a couple of times, the sound of their apartment door suddenly opening above, giving us just seconds to break off and scamper back inside our own flat before they come down and see us in the hallway with those tasty fish-flavoured Dreamies ™ in our guilty, guilty hands. Rupert probably wouldn't care though. He’d probably just give us all a look and start licking his back leg, like he always does. The little scamp.

Don't judge our love