Category Archives: opinions

The Pointlessness of Tweeting at the TV.

One of the most annoying things about living in a sharehouse was trying to sit through the television news with my tedious housemates. How much fun it was to hear their very considered commentary about “the media this, the conspiracy that, I was reading in Pilger’s blah blah the other day…” Manufacturing consent? Here’s some consent. It’s Monday. I’ll let you take this $4.50 and go watch that Polish agridrama at the Nova. I need quiet couch time to watch Married With Children*.

Years later, and the Smug People of the Land Of Smug and their idiot cousins have broken into my lounge room through their twitter accounts.

Continue reading “The Pointlessness of Tweeting at the TV.” »

TV in HD, Please

I want my. I want my TV in HD please.

How good was that French bike race? Cadel Evans, an introvert, so insular that he loves his team members because they leave him alone, only to speak to him if it’s ‘work related’, put his head down and won the three week European torture orgy. It was a win for the quiet nerd who’s happy to go the knuckle if you walk too close. Don’t believe me? Look up “angry Cadel” on youtube.

And when it comes to three week European torture orgies, the Tour de France is by far the prettiest. On my big fat and thin LED television (yeah, I’m proud to be an effluent suburban boy with his suburban toys and if you got a problem with that, I’m happy to arrange an after-school appointment outside the Glen Waverley station, knives optional), the French countryside is so gorgeous it makes me want to weep.

But it doesn’t. It only makes me angry.

Why? Because, right now, the Tour De France is the only sporting event broadcast in high definition on free to air television. Channel Ten dropped their One HD broadcasts of the footy when they lost the bidding war, Channel Seven uses their HD capacity for Hogan’s Heroes reruns and the ABC’s VFL and lawn bowl coverage is shot on Super 8.

I was at the MCG a couple weeks ago with mates, watching another game on one of the TVs in a bar at half time. Seven’s standard definition telecast was embarrassing: So pixellated you’d think we were watching the game on a Super Nintendo. One of my mates started hitting the TV thinking it was the reception, leaving me to explain to the security guard that the beer all over the screen was Kerry Stokes’s fault. This time, we were lucky. The security guard was similarly angry at the horribly pixellated coverage of a recent Rajasthan Royals cricket game. In the end we had to pull him back from, Michael Douglas Falling Down style, smashing all the TVs in the place.

We know why the channels serve us this pixellated rubbish. It’s because they prefer to use their share of a limited amount of spectrum/signal on more programming, looking to get a snare of the audience that doesn’t like footy with Hogan’s Heroes reruns, or in the ABC’s case, News 24. The Green Guide’s Paul Kalina explains why so much better than I can.

What’s interesting in Kalina’s article is the differing in opinions between ABC’s Kim Dalton who thinks the difference in broadcast quality is marginal and Foxtel’s Patrick Delany who told Kalina that 80% of new customers sign up to their HD service, so much so that they’ve stopped ordering SD set top boxes from their supplier. And they’re listening to their big television owning sports fan audience with many HD channels and a promise to play all games of AFL next year in HD.

And what annoys me most is the emptiness behind the bragging that has always come with sports broadcasting. Race Cam, Hawk Eye, Super Tedious Slo Mo, that ridiculous camera that buzzes above the players during an AFL finals game and 3D – none of us really care.

If you really care about your audience, open up your pocket, hire some HD cameras (last year’s Grand Final replay was shot in SD because all the cameras were double booked for the Commonwealth Games), and broadcast the game in HD. It’s not too much to ask.

I’ll leave you with a bit from an amusing article from 2007 proclaiming the exciting new era of HD TV.

“Besides spectacular vistas and shockingly real playing fields, hi-def clarity puts any and all wrinkles, pimples and pores on display in well-lit bathroom-mirror detail.”


Supernatural (2005 – current)

Two brothers wage a war on evil, fuelled by their loved ones taken from them prematurely and the legacy left to them by their father.

Wow. So dramatic? Already? On the one hand, that really is Supernatural in a nutshell. It is an ultimate battle against demons, wraiths, succubi, ghosts and, yes, the occasional vampire. It is what I like to call “conflict with a capital K (for Killing)”. It is pure drama.

With all those other-worldly baddies, though, it’s also a perfect opportunity for some nail-biting, pillow-clutching horror. Very rarely have we had a chance to see good horror on television. There have been attempts but, really, since the early demise of American Gothic in 1996, nothing has come close.

So we’ve got the drama and we’ve got the scares. There’s a rule of three in storytelling and the third thing here is comedy. The comedy is mild, wry and sometimes relies on knowledge of the characters and their history. That’s not a bad thing. Instead of the comedy being a draw card to the series, it’s more like a prize for long-term viewers.

There is so much to love in Supernatural, it’s hard to imagine why it’s not one of the more popular shows on TV. While it’s a great show to watch, it’s possibly a hard show to sell. It doesn’t have the novelty factor of something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Channel 7 kept spinning that around the schedule until it found a home amongst the insomniac university students who kept it alive in a late-night slot.

1970s and 80s heavy-metal ballads, muscle cars, leather jackets and scowling faces on the backdrop of the American mid-west does not really make for appealing teaser production from an Australian point of view. It’s not about police and it’s not about lawyers or set in a hospital. In fact, on a surface level it’s not about anything that a new audience can identify with.

What it is about, though, is good old-fashioned horror, action and thrills. It’s a comic book on the screen. Heroes save people in peril and sometimes get into peril themselves. In that sense it’s predictable. But so what? Every now and then we need a little escapism. We need adventure and we need good guys kicking bad guys’ arses. Supernatural gives us that but with a style and sense of Americana unlike anything we’ve seen.

Supernatural started the year after Lost and the year before Heroes. It really should appeal to audiences of both and especially those who loved the former but found the latter lacking in any substance. Unlike Heroes, it tells a big story by focusing on a small portion of it. It builds suspense rather than forcing mystery and disseminates information as required rather than creating artificial and soulless reveals.

Mostly, though, it’s fun and intelligent entertainment. Supernatural is exactly the kind of escapism we should be inviting into our homes.

Supernatural Season 4, is available on DVD. You can find all your entertainment needs: DVDs, Blu Ray and gaming consoles, including Playstation games, at Sanity Entertainment. —Sponsoring Boxcutters

Survivors (1975 – 1977)

seymour-in-survivors.jpgThe recent decision by the BBC to revive Terry Nation’s 1970s dystopian series Survivors probably wasn’t that much of a surprise. In the wake of the hugely successful Doctor Who (and copious spin-offs), we’ve seen the return of Quatermass, Captain Scarlet and Day Of The Triffids. There’s even endless rumours (or threats) of a rebooted Blake’s 7.

The 2008 version of Survivors started off as a lesser-populated EastEnders before descending into sub-Lost territory, and was finally put out of its misery at the end of the second season (which ended – optimistically – with a cliff hanger). The best word to describe the show was “workmanlike”, combining all the usual elements of 21st Century genre telly in all the usual ways.

That’s not how you’d describe the original. Debuting in 1975, it remains the bleakest programme ever to be a prime-time hit. A man-made virus sweeps the earth, killing the majority of the population. Faced with disease, wild animals, starvation and loneliness, the few who are left struggle to survive. It’s hard to imagine showing that one against Masterchef today. Survivors, however, was a hit in the UK and across Europe, and watching it on DVD now it’s hard to imagine anyone having the guts to make such unrelenting fare now.

Part of the success is due to Terry Nation cleverly playing against type – two of the three leads are female, and Abby Grant’s search for her son forms a rock-solid premise that other story lines can weave around. Carolyn Seymour as Abby is superb, playing the part with a stoic determination you wouldn’t see on telly today. Lucy Fleming plays plucky Jenny Richards (the only totally likeable character) and Ian McCollough plays granite-faced tough guy Greg Preston. The first series raises difficult questions about the life ahead and society they will need to build, and the episode “Law And Order” still packs a punch, an unrelenting tragedy combining rape, murder and the failure of justice.

Sadly the show goes off the rails after the first season, getting bogged down (literally) with the minutiae of subsistence farming, muddled storylines and continued (and seemingly random) changes of cast. Most shamefully, Jenny Richards gets relegated to background “wife-and-mother” character and Abby Grant vanishes altogether (Seymour claims she was fired for being argumentative and drinking too much, so she moved to the US and played villains for the next 20 years. She’s particularly good as Dean Stockwell’s evil counterpart in two episodes of Quantum Leap).

All three seasons of Survivors are now available as a 39-episode box set and are worth a look, if only to see a time when television was made without focus groups or the bourgeois concept of audience appeal. The lack of incidental music, the grimy look, the strong female characters and the powerhouse credit sequence all form a convincing world that make for a fascinating visit. You do have to allow for the cheap video look and cod-Shakespearean delivery that was de rigueur for the times, but even these add a certain quality to this barren world.

A final word on the recent remake – in a bizarre piece of legal jiggery-pokery the 2008 series claimed to be “based on the novel by Terry Nation”. That “novel” was actually a novelisation of the 1975 series published a year after it went to air. Yet Adrian Hodges still had the gall to claim a “created by” credit. Shame, Adrian, shame.

Find TV series, DVDs and Blu Ray discs, including the complete Survivors Series at Sanity Entertainment.

Bloodshed, horror and sensationalism

This afternoon Channel 9 announced a new show starting this Sunday. Not sure if they were planning this before Carl Williams was killed but it’s definitely related to their Carl Williams: Baby Faced Killer show from earlier this week.

It’s possible that they discovered how quickly they can put this kind of material together and have some solid gold ratings filler by just throwing together some old news footage and shoving Vince Colosimo in a sound booth for a few hours to read a few lines of voiceover.

Called Australian Families of Crime, the whole exercise feels like a cynical attempt to plug in to an audience’s basest interests. What once seemed like the sensational and exploitative homeland of Channel 10, with their Cops / Hard Copy programming is now wholly occupied by Channel 9.

The flag they plant to claim this land as their own is in the titles of the episodes. The first is called Milat: Backpacker Bloodshed. Shocking, isn’t it.

There is, in our culture, a fascination with the macabre. I love stories of serial killers and other true crime when they’re told well. The producers of Crime Investigations Australia, credited with creating this series, have told some great stories of Australian serial killers and other criminals. They have never, however, shied away from an exploitative production style.

It’s the speed with which this series was announced and slammed onto the air (announced on Thursday and airing on Sunday) that stinks of exploitation. Capitalising on criminal behaviour is a very tight rope to walk. What makes the Underbelly series an acceptable pulp story but Baby Faced Killer a soul-less profiteering on somebody’s horrible crimes and gruesome death? Maybe it’s just time but then the adage states that timing is everything.

Australian Families of Crime airs at 9:30pm Sunday on Channel 9.

With just two and a half months to go before the first part of our country (Mildura/Sunraysia) is left without access to a free-to-air analogue television, Senator Conroy announced this morning a joint venture between the Government, Southern Cross Media and Imparja.

The Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service will be available to all areas except for Western Australia where a deal is in the works with Optus.

From the media release:

Executive Director of the Digital Switchover Taskforce, Andy Townend said the satellite service will be available for the Mildura/Sunraysia region as the first region to switch over to digital-only TV on 30 June 2010.

To access the VAST service, viewers will need to purchase a new satellite set top box with an access ‘smart card’, a satellite dish and cabling.

“Households wanting to get ready for the new satellite service should contact a qualified antenna installer to express their interest so they can start making arrangements immediately, including the installation of a satellite dish,” Mr Townend said.

Altec UEC will be the initial supplier and distributor of satellite set top boxes. The supplier will be informing antenna installers and satellite equipment suppliers in Mildura/Sunraysia about the availability of the new satellite service from today.

Households in the Mildura/Sunraysia region already using the existing Aurora satellite service will be able to convert to the new service using their existing dish as soon as the new set top boxes are available.

Do you live in the middle of nowhere and want access to television like everybody else? Tell us in the comments.

Winter Olympics Coverage: A Shambles?

Earlier today we received a barrage of text messages from Alex Boxcutter complaining about the poor Winter Olympics coverage on Channel 9:

No aussies in event means 9 don’t think we care. God forbid we’d enjoy something other than the summer swimming. Fucking disgaceful! I wish i had fox!
-Alex b

On Twitter we saw @mollyfud hitting his head on a virtual brick wall with anger.

The other night I saw what was neither worthy of being called an advertisement nor a faux-Getaway piece about shopping in one particular street in Vancouver.

So, tell us. Have you been trying to watch the Winter Olympics on TV? Have you been happy what Channel 9 have provided in terms of coverage? Has anybody out there bought the Foxtel package for the duration?

Let us know in the comments or through the contact form.

We’ll try to get some answers from Channel 9 in the meantime.

The DOA Wife?

Longtime Boxcutters listeners will know that I have never been one to watch much live TV. When we started doing this show, I had three video recorders hooked up that I would variously record on or try to work through the previously recorded shows while juggling the physical tape space on multiple VHS tapes. I still have episodes of Jake in Progress and Caroline in the City I’m sure I’ll get to one day… Anyway, I digress… The reason I was a power user level time shifted viewer from way back was so as to have a ready reserve of quality viewing available at a time convenient to me, rather than the time and day convenient to the networks, and to waste less of my life waiting for the show to come back after the ads. With more than 25 years of experience, I’m a veritable guru when it comes to readying the zapping finger over the remote buttons at the first sign of going to a break and getting the right count to come back to normal speed.

So it takes something really special for an advertising campaign to start to piss me off consistently. Congratulations channel 10… You’ve done it. Continue reading “The DOA Wife?” »

East West 101: season 2

Note: At the end of last year I talked about East West 101 as an Australian TV highlight. Here’s some extended thoughts.

EW101.jpgI continue to beleive that one of the last things we need in this country is more cop dramas but when a good one comes along, it’s really hard to ignore.

The second series of East West 101 was so good, we would do well to ignore the first with its ridiculous contrivances and overbearing political correctness. Now we get to see exactly what Australia can produce when drama is allowed to run its natural course.

Don Hany plays Zane Malik, a Muslim cop in Sydney’s west who’s trying to make a go of being a religious man in a secular world.

While the first series focused too much on revenge and the world’s inherent lack of fairness, the second delved into much more complicated territory: Maintaining one’s values in a society that offers constant temptation.

It’s complicated themes, treated with subtlety and patience, that make really good television. Imagine how much more interesting Dexter would be if there was no voice-over narration and his dead father didn’t keep explaining things. If there is limited exposition, then the audience is forced to work out the characters’ motivations. East West 101 stands out from other local drama because the creators seem to understand the importance.

The many storylines demand constant attention. The organised crime and terrorism world of Sydney’s west has many players. In addition, though, we see some of the trials of the characters’ home lives.

Susie Porter, whose presence in the series is mandatory under the SBS charter, is Patricia Wright. She’s Malik’s immediate superior in the police force. with has her own family issues to deal with and the piling dead bodies don’t make it any easier.

Both characters are, obviously, finding society’s inherent discrimination more difficult than it would be in a more ideal world. Still, they are committed to their jobs, their families and protecting themselves.

Yes, that all sounds very serious, but there aren’t any jokes here. It’s serious business, but it’s compelling, and that should be enough.

Buy DVDs, including the entire 2nd season of East West 101, at Sanity Entertainment.

A Special Note: East West 101‘s first series alternated between unnecessarily melodramatic and promising. Those of you who remember my rant about Cptn Cardboard possibly also remember that I changed my stance on the programme after a few more episodes. I still think the first season could have been better.

Does Variety Television Actually Exist?

There’s been a lot of talk about Variety coming back in the last couple of weeks. Everything to do with the Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion (other than the obvious criticisms) shows has been about variety coming back. “Isn’t it great to have variety back?” people will say.

Of course, people said the same thing when Dancing with the Stars started. Also, when I was growing up, one of the long running variety shows was the Black and White Minstrel Show, as was the Muppet Show. Take from that what you will.

The truth is, Variety never really left us because it doesn’t really exist as a genre. Is Hey Hey variety? Then what is similar between that show and Dancing with the Stars? How do they compare to the Brady Bunch Hour or The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour or Donny & Marie?

There’s almost no difference to what Hey Hey became late in its existence and a tonight show. Dancing with the Stars is closer linked to Celebrity Masterchef than it is to Hey Hey or the Osmonds.

So we take the term Variety out of the equation and what do we have? People feel like they’re missing something from their television experience and it somehow involves singing and dancing and family entertainment with a bit of light comedy thrown in.

What people are saying when they talk about wanting variety to come back to television is that they want is some sort of stagnation. They don’t want to think, they don’t want to learn, they don’t want to go on a journey. It’s mindless television and it must be stopped. Its nothing but a distraction and that’s not the way any entertainment should be. If, when watching television, you come away from it with nothing, was that time well spent?

I was outraged after the second reunion show when reading the Facebook messages on the Hey Hey page about the Black Faces debacle. People were offended that Harry Connick Jr was offended. How does that even make sense? This so called family entertainment is pitting us against each other.

Television is like one of those comic book devices that could save the world but in the wrong hands would mean disaster. Variety is just another word for television being in the wrong hands. It must be stopped.