How I Binge

One of the many buzzwords you hear today is “binge watching,” which is basically watching loads of one programme in one fell swoop. Frankly, I’ve called this marathon watching, but I’m a product of the 80s, when marathons were special events on networks.

A lot of these binges are tied into the success of Netflix’s entrance into the production market, where instead of weekly releases of a programme, they dropped all episodes at once to much success. I’ll be honest with you, I have little interest in what Netflix is offering (and all they really offer the Australian market is esterophilia). 

Recently I read an article in The Hollywood Reporter where Jenji Kohan, creator of one of the Netflix successes, Orange Is The New Black, said that binging is hurting the shared experience that used to happen when things were released weekly. Indeed, it’s quite funny to read the entertainment news websites’ attempts to cover shows whose episodes are released all at once, because the journalists have no idea how to write for an audience who could be at any place in the series. 

Even though none of the new binge shows appeal to me, I do enjoy binging. My current delight is the early 2000s Australian* crime show Stingers. I’m under no illusion that I’m probably one of the very few people watching episode after episode, and that’s fine with me. Binging for me is about personal enjoyment, and I don’t expect anyone else to be on the same page as me. Perhaps befitting my background as a scriptwriter, I’d rather discuss things with the scriptwriters, network executives, and producers.

* I tend to watch a lot of Australian & New Zealand programming simply because it’s new to me. Bizarrely, you barely see any old (as in not currently in production) Australian television programming on Australian television. But that’s another subject entirely

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Woolworths Carols in the Domain 2014

This has been quite the challenging week here in Australia.

I tend to be of the belief that everyone deals with these events in their own way and that it is best to get on with life albeit with sensitivity to others.

So in that vein, striking the right tone for this review will be somewhat tricky. Yet, understand that underneath the jibes and puns is a strong degree of affection for the event and the people that put it on.

Before we actually begin, we need the show to actually start at the scheduled time.

Yes, it’s the time honoured Australian television tradition of starting programmes late in order to win the time slot.

(Australian networks are NOT fined for starting shows late.)

The show starts with a very solemn (and understandable) note about this week’s events and Mark Vincent singing “You Raise Me Up.”

This year, the hosts are the entire (Weekday) Sunrise team: [David] Koch (aka “Kochie”), Samantha Armytage, Natalie Barr, and Mark Beretta.

Mark Vincent resets the tone by bringing out a group of opera singers who sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Much rather this than Lorne Michaels asking Giuliani “if we can laugh again?”

It does end in a flurry of glory notes, but at least everyone onstage can hit them.

Adverts: This is being marketed as “Woolworths-Disney Carols in the Domain,” and Big Hero 6 is the new Disney film getting released soon, so I fully expect the ratio to be 50% Disney ads during the break, but surprisingly there’s only one…Woolworths “cheap cheap” ads never fail to make me snicker (“Wow, that’s cheap!”)

And our guests include: A whole bunch of X-Factor people, The Wiggles, and Georgie Parker & Jay Laga’aia. (I’m truly looking forward to that reunion.)

Kochie welcomes the Premier & Police, and it’s rather interesting to note that as part of a Quartet, the HBIC powers of Natalie Barr are diminished.

Nat does get to announce Dami Im (X Factor 2013 winner) singing “O Holy Night.” Dami does an extremely good (and glory note free) version of the song.

Strike that, she did melisma the last part.

Now, it’s Taylor Henderson (who is also responsible the new Sunrise theme song, and a X Factor alumni) singing “The First Noel.” As pious as Taylor is, I question his choice to sound rather nasal when singing about Jesus and looking solemn.

Mark & Nat give a really quick intro to Christine Anu (the first non-reality show soloist) singing “Little Drummer Boy.” As good as Christine Anu is (and she is VERY GOOD), there will always be only one version of this song for me and that’s Vanessa Williams’s Jazz version.

Mark tells us “The kids take over with Jay Laga’aia…”

I didn’t hear Georgie Parker’s name afterwards, which makes me doubt the chances of a reunion of their awkward 2012 duet.

Adverts: So Fresh “Songs for Christmas” surely must be an ironic title as those are some very dated covers…And Disney and Qantas must be using the same advertising agencies.

And we’re back in the Quartet, and now we’re really back because it is all bad puns about Kochie being responsible for Santa Claus.

They intro Jay Laga’aia (sans Georgie Parker). He sings “Frosty the Snowman” and at least his mic is on.

It’s been awhile that I’ve heard the song, but I don’t remember a line about a “traffic cop.”

Mark & Nat come back with the first of several Disney plugs, this time for the live-action Cinderella. Nat does a very obvious segue by saying “Here is are own Cinderella story, [X-Factor 2014 winner] Marlisa.”

Marlisa sings a melisma filled version of “A Dream Is a wish your heart makes,” she is accompanied by a bunch of scenes from Cinderella, of course.

I voted for Dean Ray, and let’s leave it at that.

And we’re back to the quartet, who for people who appear on television 5 days a week, look oddly stunned.

Sam intros Nathaniel [X-Factor] singing “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

There will be no rap break, fortunately.

Nathaniel has opted for a version that veers occasionally close to “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five.

That said, you can only inject so much soul into “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Kochie teases me with another promise of a Laga’aia-Parker duet.

Adverts: I am very happy they finally turned the bloody volume down on that Freeview ad. The whole world has had it in their hands and ears…On Sunrise, no matter what you do, we will make your Christmas feel inadequate.

Mark & Nat finally deliver the goods: The Laga’aia-Parker duet.

And it is as awkward in 2014 as it was in 2012, with the dancing children as a wall between Georgie-land and Jay-Land. At least Jay’s microphone is turned on.

Poor Rudolph, the co-dependent Reindeer.

More woeful jokes about Kochie’s incompetence as Santa introduces The Wiggles.

Santa Claus with a strong Australian accent is something to behold.

Unlike his former colleagues, Anthony ain’t retiring anytime soon.

They sing a song about Emma’s Christmas Bow.

I tune out of sincerity. Though the word “Bow” rings in my ears for several minutes after.

The camera does a closeup of a baby as The Wiggles sing “Silent Night.” The baby looks rather annoyed.

And then it’s the inevitable “Go Santa Go.”

The interesting about Wiggles performances is that the parents tend to be more into it than the children.

That said, The Wiggles do their annual duty and bring in Santa Claus, who is being driven in via golf cart.

When Santa does get onstage, the orchestra greets him with a couple instrumental lines from Jesus Christ Superstar, or it certainly sounds like it.

All and sundry onstage perform a considerably restrained version of “Jingle Bells” considering they are being assaulted by silly string.

Adverts: “This is Aus-TRAL-IA!” Seven is running a serious risk of pissing a portion of the public off with the constant promotion of “Australia: The Story of Us.”…A Crystal Furby?…If you don’t fly Qantas, you have no family…Dear Sweet Lord this Qantas ad is long…I probably could be back in 1990s Wisconsin by the time it ends.

Celebrity greeting: Jamie Oliver (Woolworths $pokesperson) tells us to donate to the Salvation Army.

Kochie tells Sam that he’s been eager to host Carols for some time, and proceeds to embarrass his grandchildren and contrive a link to Marlisa.

Marlisa sings “Away in a manger.” She sounds not as polished as previously.

Nat & Mark intro Taylor Henderson and Samantha Jade singing “Happy Christmas.”

Henderson looks startled, whereas Jade looks like she is about to bust out a “Praise Him” at any moment.

Kochie & Sam show us some of the actual programs the Salvos do (which is a pleasant change from just saying “DONATE”) and then introduce Judith Dunham.

Dunham is the grande dame of this year, and first performs a song in round
with The Australian Girls Choir. Then things get seriously ratcheted up to eleven in a very loud version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” that threatens to drown poor Judith out. When they get to the final chorus it gets so brassy, I have expect a chorus line to come out kicking.

Mark promises Adam Garcia next. (Doing what?)

Adverts: My Kitchen Rules: Real People, Real Food? So they were cyborgs all the previous seasons?…When will these Hobbit films ever end?…Australia Post, Please Privatise Us (despite it being foolish to do so)…

And we return with a smiling Nat & Mark introducing Adam Garcia singing (and fortunately dancing to) “It’s beginning to look like Christmas.” Some cruel audio person turned the volume up on Adam’s mic so we hear every last breath.

The audio evens out during his rather impressive tap break with The Tap Pack.

Partial advertising break: Woolworths hardware store refurbishes a house for a youth centre in Blacktown. Though the faux reality show narration does grate.

Sam & Kochie intro Lee Kernaghan & his very gorgeous wife singing a version of “Jingle Bell Rock” with a lot more sex appeal than you’d expect.

Mark mentions Nat’s previous hosting of Carols, and we get a glimpse of the old HBIC Nat. They introduce The McClymonts doing the inevitable-but-meteorologically-impossible in the Australian Summer medley of snow songs which will include “Let It Go,” (as in the Disney film…It’s Showtime, Synergy.)

The camera tries to catch as many children singing along, though it unfortunately captures a boy sleeping.

Mark promises Dami Im and “more.” I notice one thing that is absent this year, and that is the overseas celebrity gue$t.

Adverts: Seven News is omnipresent, in fact, Chris Bath is already filing a report about what you had for dinner…Buy jewellery to make up for being a crap partner…That poor Dick Smith voiceover artist must be still aching after having to speak so fast.

Kochie & Sam again, and they FINALLY tell us how to make a donation via SMS. (It’s been onscreen several times.)

Dami Im sings “The Christmas Song” at a piano. She’s coming across as the real star this year, as her performance is seemingly effortless.

Kochie returns us to the most plug-filled renovation show ever. But it is for a good cause.

Kochie embarrasses Nat (who apparently likes Wicked), with the cast of Wicked singing some of the songs from the show.

I’ve seen Wicked, but I’m rather indifferent to it, or rather the PLEASE-LOOK-AT-ME style of musical theatre.

The cast sings “Joy to the World” with a lot more restraint, fortunately.

Interesting lyric: “He makes the nations prove his righteousness.”

Kochie threatens/promises us with Doug “Hiro Tsunoda” Parkinson and Jubilation.

Adverts: Buy an Apple product and bridge the generation gap…Shut up Meerkat…super synergy is achieved with a Woolworths ad for Frozen…

Another thing this year is missing: Matt “Gnat” White, who has gone over to Ten.

Nat wishes everyone who is watching this on the ashes of the Australia Network, “Australia Plus.”

Paulini (Australian Idol) comes on to sing “Jesus, The Wonderful Child” with Jubilation.

She is gospel-ing it up in a rather risqué evening gown, which makes it rather interesting visual.

Alas, no one onstage gets the spirit.

She then is joined by Doug “the white Australian possessed by an old black gospel singer” Parkinson in a version of “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”

And again, no one gets the spirit.

They try again when Doug starts singing “This Little of Mine,” which I don’t even think of as a religious song, though clearly I’ve never made it past the chorus.

No one gets the spirit and does the spinning chook dance.

Adverts: Australia was made by bullets (“THIS IS AUS-TRA-LIA”)…They really want people to buy that Human Nature album…The Water Diviner has got some howl-worthy lines…Heterosexuals are easily blinded by jewellery…Optus needs to say no to Josh Thomas…Ford apparently keeps Australia “real.” Woolworths is cheap, but the CGI in those ads isn’t, and they’ve got to recoup their costs somewhere

Kochie & Sam introduce Samantha Jade singing a song whose title I wasn’t able to get. Jade looks much more appropriate this year than in previous years, where her outfits were more Mary Magdalene than Virgin Mary.

Though she does a good job, alas this year belongs Dami Im.

And as in years past, Mark Vincent sings “The Holy City,” a song I’ve never heard of until moving to this country.

This has been a very interesting, and dare I say, innocent edition of Carols. It seems stripped back.

While on some level, I miss the madcap craziness, it’s an understandable decision.

Kochie tells us an All-star singalong is next.

Adverts: Give a gift from Officeworks, the gift that says “5 January isn’t that far away”…Mortein, I’ve been slapping all day long, I’d like my money back…Michael Hill, where clueless men are separated from their money…The new Annie is the remake no one asked for.

Christine Anu sings “Silent Night” with the Australian Girls Choir.

The camera cuts to another child asleep…and another…and another.

I should mention it’s now after 11 at night.

Sam finally mention the fireworks, because this show truly needs to end.

As is always the tradition, it’s “Song of Joy,” performed by the classical singers who opened the show along with all the other singers: Jay Laga’aia & Georgie Parker cling to each other, as do Nathaniel and Taylor Henderson.

A few fireworks half-heartedly spit up in the air.

Kochie still promises us more, and there’s a bit of tiredness/desperation in his voice.

Adverts: Is Kylie Minogue singing 80s covers a bit redundant?…Foxtel is also “cheap, cheap”

Kochie says that it has been a sensational night, though it’s also been a rather flat one.

One by one, they rattle off the sponsors, and close with what seems to be the new “seasons greetings” “Look out for each other.”

And after several false starts everyone sings “Reach Out And Touch Someone’s Hand,” then “We Need A Little Christmas,” and then “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree.” Kochie is completely wooden, the rest of his colleagues are surprisingly not.

Because this thing will not end, they then sing “Go Santa Go,” “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

Why on Earth is this “family” show ending at almost 11:30 at night?

Finally credits amongst a more potent firework display.

Both Alike In Dignity and Complexity

“Two households both alike in dignity/In fair Verona where we set our scene”

"an excellent conceited tragedy" indeed

“an excellent conceited tragedy” indeed

I remember the opening prologue to Romeo & Juliet because I saw it countless times whilst waiting in the wings for my entrance during my high school’s production.

Let the record show that I was not Romeo. I was Friar Lawrence actually.

In the two productions of Shakespeare my school put on, I was cast as a religious figure who gave advice to those struck dumb with love.  Presumably this was due to the fact that as an overweight black teenage male, I didn’t exactly exude romantic lead material.

Waiting in the wings, waiting to go on, and observing the activity night after night gave me somewhat of an interesting challenge: I was disconnected from the action, but expected to thrust myself into it just a few scenes later.

This was not that different from my day-to-day life at the time, where I often felt like I was disconnected from the high school world around me. I was, for lack of a better term, “other.”

Now, on some level, that’s just a standard teenage phase, but as a double minority (black and gay), not being considered part of the mainstream really got to me. It got to me so much that I pretty much the kibosh on any thoughts of being an actor after graduating. Instead, I was going to be a writer. Yessir, I was going to write the world as I saw it and everybody’s minds would be collectively blown and the world would be a bit less daunting to the fat black gay teenage boys from Wisconsin.

I’d like to think that the world of 2014 is a bit more hospitable now than it was then.

Today, I saw two articles from The Atlantic that made me remember that sense of “otherness” from way back when.

The first one was from Enuma Okoro, praising the everywoman aspects of the lead character in the new BET (Black Entertainment Television) show Being Mary Jane, which is about a journalist attempting to get that proverbial work-life balance just right. In the article, Okoro quotes a study by Essence magazine that states that a considerable majority of black women see negative portrayals of themselves more often than positive ones, amongst which include the infamous (and unrealistic) head shaking, sassy black woman stereotype.

It certainly didn’t reflect the reality of the black women that I ever came across in my family, nor in my black female peers and friends.

This is not to say that it wasn’t true for some people, but not all, and particularly when your only representation is this archetype it can become an expectation.

Apologies for the cliché, but if I had a dime for how many people overseas asked me if black women really were that way, I’d be able to solve the GFC.

That’s the problem with television and media in general, it can turn a character trait that the actual person has to chop down (often with a metaphorical pickaxe) to find the truth inside.

And that truth is, as Okoro says about Being Mary Jane, “the potential to slowly alter the way viewers see and relate to African-Americans as a people whose lives and experiences—their good and poor decisions, and their trials and triumphs—can be encompassed into cultural and social norms in the same way that the lives and experiences of white Americans have been for centuries.”

The second article was Hope Reese’s interview with Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh, the creators of Looking, a new HBO show about gay men in San Francisco.

Haigh says “Our ambition is not to tell the story about all gay people, which is impossible to do. The gay community is full of all different types of people. It never was our intention to be the ultimate gay show about all gay people. We just want to tell the stories of these characters and their lives.”

In response to Reese’s question about whether they [Lannan & Haigh] felt a burden to “get it right,” he says: “I think ‘burden’ is a good way to put it. We do feel like there’s a burden, and then the trailer comes out, and everyone comments on it, saying, “That’s not my life.” It was hysterical looking at some of the comments. Some people decided it was a show about cock-hungry sluts, and others would say that it’s all white people. Everyone has a judgment. But we can’t represent everybody—it’s impossible.

So in many respects, we have to ignore that. But I also understand the desire, the need, for representation on the screen. My hope is that if this show does well, it will offer the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people.”

Haigh’s statement about hoping that it offers “the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people” echoes earlier remarks from the creators of the sitcom Will & Grace in response to accusations that the show wasn’t realistic.

Mind you, it is a comedy, and asking for verisimilitude in a half-hour comedy without it becoming mind-numbingly dull is a big ask.

A belated disclaimer: I have yet to see either of these shows, but I suspect that Looking will make an appearance on some Australian television outlet, and the eternal optimist in me hopes that Being Mary Jane might as well.  (I like to believe that in a nation that believes in the “fair go,” that is a possibility.)

With regards to Looking, I must admit that for some gay men out there, it might be a breath of fresh air to see their lives reflected onscreen. I remember when Patrik-Ian Polk’s Noah’s Arc debuted on LOGO. I remember thinking “wow, I see guys who are black and gay, and who actually have a sex life and relationships!”

Noah's Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

Noah’s Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

It might seem peculiar to those who aren’t black and gay, but for the most part, the representation of black gay men in TV  was pretty much as the “sassy sidekick” (mostly in drag) to the white leads who got to go through the ups and downs of romance, awkwardness, and well…reality.

Which brings me back to what the overweight black gay teenage boy waiting in the wings in 2014 sees.

I truly hope he can see that his hopes and wishes not that much different from everyone else, and perhaps, everyone else sees something of their own hopes and wishes in his.

Carols in the Domain Post-Mortem 2013

Hasn’t it been a long time between drinks?

A couple of bits of business before we get down to the carolling.

1) I’m watching this on PVR, and–Welcome to Australian television–the opening didn’t record.
2) Hi Australia, I’m back in blue.

Hopes for this year’s edition: Natalie Doyle’s death glare, Gnat actually getting his props for being a decent singer, another round of Seven & the Seventy-Sevens, and please, no rap breaks in songs that don’t need them. Either rap the carol or sing the carol!

Whatever preamble there was, I don’t know. What I am greeted with however, is actress Justine Clarke (very nicely attired) energetically telling a group of children “Do you know who it is?”

Since it’s not captioned, I have no idea what the children’s response is, but apparently it was a music cue for Justine to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Not being terribly familiar with Justine Clarke’s career outside of prime-time, it’s pleasant to discover that she’s a very good singer. (Playschool grad?)

The ode to the oddball reindeer ends abruptly and quickly transitions to a very cabaret-style “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

The kids backing Justine are great, and two are dressed as the Mario Brothers of Nintendo fame, which is rather idiosyncratic.

As Justine really belts out the last few bars, Santa does indeed come to the Domain…on a motorcycle.

It’s Bikie Claus!

Bikie Claus then leads everybody on stage in what can only be described as “Jingle Bells” performed as a revival.

Gnat tells us that Samantha Jade is next.

Adverts: My Kitchen Rules promises twins who will be playing dumb and mean, and another pair who proceed to call them as such…Jamie Oliver salivates over WOOLWORTHS prawns…This year’s Carols in the Domain movie tie-in? Disney’s “Frozen.” Which makes a lot more sense than last year’s “Parental Guidance.”

And we’re back.

Michael Buble’ does his standard recorded “Happy Holidays” message for his very passionate fanbase down here. (I know he means it, but Seven really ought to stump up the cash to get him here for one of these things.)

No Nat this year, it’s Melissa Doyle, the old female foil to Lord Kochie on Sunrise. (A bit of background for Americans reading this: Remember the PR fiasco that happened when Ann Curry got booted from Today? Well, Melissa Doyle is essentially the Australian equivalent of Ann Curry in that situation, and let’s just leave it at that.)

No death glares or snark from Mel, which I must admit, I rather miss. These reviews are always a lot more fun when the presenters do everything with an arched eyebrow. Instead Mel & Gnat introduce Samantha Jade singing “O Holy Night.”

Unlike the risqué attire last year, Jade looks like a Disney princess. (Subtle plug?) Now, I don’t mind Jade, but she does give what is supposed to be a solemn hymn a few too many glory notes (no pun intended).

Mel remarks that Jade does look like a princess. (PLUG) Meanwhile, Gnat–wearing a parka–complains that it’s cold. Now this can go one of two ways: either with a Chaser-style bit of political humour about global warming or a plug for Disney’s Frozen. Let’s see which one wins.

Gnat says he feels frost in the air and that “it could snow at any time” followed by a joke about his surname [White].

And it turns out that the sole purpose of that whole blizzard of jokes was to intro Johnny Ruffo singing “White Christmas.”

Last year, this poor lad was running around like a mad man onstage, this year he’s taking it easy, it’s Johnny “Vegas Swing” Ruffo.

Unfortunately, the orchestration calls for him to hit a really absurdly high note. Given the fact that Ruffo looks quite baby-faced, it gives the impression that his voice is about to crack.

Out of seemingly nowhere, a flurry of tap dancers appear…in tuxedos. I admit I tend to overthink a lot of these things, but the first thought that pops into my head is that we have gone from the Domain to dinner theatre. Johnny Vegas Ruffo gamely taps along, but not too much, because he has to sing again and hit those notes. And they are HIGH.

There’s another tap break and Ruffo’s portable mic battery (or box, or whatever those things that allow a singer to hear themselves) falls out.

He soldiers on, and actually improves, in my opinion. Though of all songs to get a James Brown style “breakdown” “White Christmas” would be the last one I’d expect. Nonetheless, there Ruffo was doing the splits.

I tell you, this man is the workhorse of Seven.

Gnat chides Mel about snow, and I hope that is the end of that gag.

The glimmer of hope I had for climate change humour is dashed as Mel says “you could say it’s FROZEN.”

Gnat gives the spiel about [Disney’s new film] “Frozen,” making it sound like it’s “Gone With The Wind” for the 21st Century.

The clip we’re given is entertaining, but could not possibly live up to that hype.

Mel & Gnat–I’m just going to be calling them the MGs from here on in–promise us an “exclusive” performance of a song from the film from one of Australia’s biggest musical theatre stars, Amanda Harrison.

Not being up on my Australian musical theatre knowledge, I’m going to take the MGs word that she is.

The song “Let it go,” sounds like something you’d hear Miss Georgia sing at a Miss America pageant circa 1985. Harrison certainly gives it her all, with the fireworks dramatically punctuating every glory note.

“Exclusive” clearly is TV speak for brief, as the song is over after one chorus.

The MGs must be wearing sneakers as they reappear in a booth some distance away right after Harrison sings the last “GOOOOOOOO!”

Before we go to adverts they promise Jessica Mauboy, Human Nature (Australian boyband turned neo-Rat Pack after a Vegas residency), Stan Walker (AGAIN?), and Jimmy Barnes.

Adverts: Medibank is now speaking in hashtags.

We return with Sir Cliff Richard (or Nosferatu) reminding us to donate to the Salvos.

The MGs point out that the candle bags have sold out. (The profits go to the Salvos.) They give a donate to the Salvos spiel which conveniently segues into an intro for Stan Walker (AGAIN?) singing “The First Noel.”

Walker is accompanied by the Australian Girls Choir, and he does not try to sing over them…mostly.

After Christmas in the Park, I have reached Stan Walker saturation point.

Gnat reappears looking oddly stunned. Ah, must be time to do the awkward interview with an overseas celebrity who “wishes they could be there,” but Seven or Woolworth’s doesn’t pay enough.

This year it’s Kelly Clarkson, who is pregnant and in Los Angeles.

Personally, I don’t care, except Gnat refers to it constantly. Perhaps, it’s just me, but mentioning pregnancy during any Christmas themed show automatically makes me think of the Virgin Mary, particularly since this is Clarkson’s first pregnancy.

The Virgin Kelly will be giving an “exclusive” (read: probably recorded several days ago) performance “later on.”

I wouldn’t be so cynical about it, except last year’s Rod Stewart debacle gave that distinct impression.

Mel glides in and the MGs go into mega-hype mode, this time over the pairing of Jessica Mauboy & Human Nature.

I remember where I was when I found out that the Soviet Union was no more.

I remember where I was when Michael Jackson performed the Moonwalk for the first time.

Clearly I can add another thing to that list: when Jessica Mauboy & Human Nature performed “Sleighride.” At least that’s what the MGs want us to believe.

The reality is that this is not so much Jessica Mauboy & Human Nature, but Jessica Mauboy VS. Human Nature.

Much like Georgie Parker vs. Jay Laga’ia last year, they start out in unison and then kind of fall apart. Mauboy goes into Beyonce’ mode and Human Nature are the Osmond Brothers.

Kind of awkward, particularly when the members of Human Nature start doing one-on-one “diva vs. divo” duets with Mauboy.

Gnat tells us Jimmy Barnes and the cast of Grease are next (and if they’re performing together then that really will be Jimmy Barnes vs. the cast of Grease, because whenever Jimmy Barnes performs with somebody, it’s really Jimmy Barnes versus them), along with Kelly Clarkson’s “exclusive” performance.

Slight rant here: Somebody needs to start charging television networks every time they say the word “exclusive,” because it’s beginning to lose its meaning. Frankly, we all know that we can only see Kelly Clarkson’s performance on Seven. It’s pretty unlikely that someone from Nine or Ten is going to hijack the satellite feed and put it to air as well. (Though in the world of Australian commercial television, anything cut throat is possible.)

Adverts: The “bomb” is just the start on Home & Away. (It’s time to shore up our UK viewers with a sudden trip to London. Take that, Shortland Street.)…Holden tells us “we’re here to stay,” no matter what news of Holden winding down operations and closing plants might say (Poor Holden marketing execs are really between a rock and a hard place, honestly)

As we return, Mel intros Kelly Clarkson’s “exclusive” performance of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

Clarkson is supported by a pretty decent orchestra, which makes really wonder if “exclusive” also means “well, I was doing this anyway for US television so I might as well flick it your way too, Seven.”

The fact that she’s in a theatre with a sizable audience and pretty slick camera work supports this even more.

Gnat returns with the ironic (at least to me, given the previous rant) statement that “the word ‘legend’ gets bandied about these days.” (Not as much as the word “exclusive.”) It is the appropriate terminology to describe Jimmy Barnes, however.

There is no need to go through the man’s whole entire bio, Gnat.

Jimmy Barnes comes in and in true Barnesy style attacks the stage singing “Run Run Rudolph.” That may read as odd, but Barnes makes it work.

Unfortunately, the camera goes to a shot of the crowd and shows the enormous Tele-prompTer with the lyrics scrolling merrily along.

The MGs return saying in the most square way possible “No one rocks it out like Jimmy Barnes.”

Gnat, I like you, but please don’t say “groovy” again.

Speaking of Tele-prompTers, Gnat clearly looks at one (or a clock) when complimenting Mel’s dress.

Mel gives the details very briefly in order to intro the cast of Grease.

They sing “Greased Lightning” to a sleigh.

Not being a fan of this song, nor the musical Grease itself, this is a bit of a hard slog for me.

This segues into “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” after Todd McKinney comes onstage.

Now were this Nine, we’d be having Bert Newton, I reckon. (Bert is actually in the cast, but it wouldn’t look right for him to be on Seven, such are the politics of commercial television. You just don’t channel hop in Australia as Mel B. has discovered, although I guess Rob Mills’s deal with Ten must’ve come to an end.)

Adverts: The next edition of My Kitchen Rules will apparently include a couple who are very big on cheese. Being that they are from NSW, you can pretty much guess which part of the state they’re from…

Some brief thoughts on comedy

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Courtesy of the late start of the NRL Grand Final (1700 AEST…allegedly), I decided to have an impromptu sitcom marathon.

The sitcom is probably one of the most durable formats in television worldwide. Frankly, everybody wants to laugh. Yet, while laughter is universal, what we find funny and what networks think we’ll find funny varies greatly.

The US: At their core, all US sitcoms are about the tyranny of niceness and character’s relationship to it. The US is–as I’ve said many times on this corner of the Internet–a nation linked together by beliefs (the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are akin to religious texts, and I do not mean that in a blasphemous way, they just are taken and taught that seriously) and not ethnic or religious similarities. The “have a nice day” American politeness is the way we try to overcome those differences. Therein lies the friction and humour. Even in all the “toilet humour” shows, it’s all about finding ways for seemingly disparate people to get along.

The UK: Whereas American comedy is about trying smooth over societal differences, British comedy is interested in the struggle between and within various social groups. This is the land of the Class comedy. It’s also the land of the dark, or perhaps the more appropriate term is cynical comedy.

Canada: Somewhat reflective of Canada’s strong influence from the UK, France, and the US, Canadian comedy is a combination of the absurd with societal (read: current affairs) commentary. From an American viewpoint, Canadian comedy always seems much more mature and cutting than American comedy without being bleak. It says something that a great amount of what the world thinks are American comedy stars are actually Canadian.

Australia: It’s a bit hard to diagnose Australian comedy since the networks have done all in sundry to bury it with the Footy Show being effectively the longest running comedy/variety show still on air.

Again, The Footy Show is the longest running comedy/variety show still on air in Australia.

But my overall diagnosis is that Australian comedy is mostly social commentary, essentially taking its cues from the Burlesque/Vaudeville era and adjusting it to modern times. It’s all about the quick cheeky zinger that captures the zeitgeist.

New Zealand: New Zealand likes to capture the zeitgeist but they also like the payoff of a long witty joke. This is one of the reasons that the sitcom has held on in New Zealand. There also is a bit more daring and cynicism in Kiwi humour.

Please add your own thoughts about sitcoms around the world in the comments.

Hopefully this will change things

 

nothing on tv tonight

nothing on tv tonight (Photo credit: badjonni)

 

For quite sometime I have said that one of the most sacred agreements between viewer and network is to air programming at the time that it is scheduled, and if programming isn’t able to aired at the time, then the viewer should be given a credible reason as to why not.

 

“We want to win ratings,” is not even remotely credible.

 

Fortunately, TV Tonight is doing something about it.

 

TV Tonight launches the Late List | TV Tonight.

 

A true National Broadcasting Company?

 

NBC News Truck

NBC News Truck (Photo credit: Indiana Public Media)

 

A long time ago in a blog not so far away, I wrote about a future where NBC became PBS 3.

 

Well, let’s take that thought and look at it.

 

NBC, for non-Americans, is the National Broadcasting Company. Despite the name, it has never been owned or operated by the US government or any of its constituent states or territories. (It might seem that way if you’ve ever visited New York City, but hand-to-god, it’s always been private.)

 

NBC, however, has pretty much acted like it was the US’s public-service broadcaster. How long has NBC been around? Practically since Broadcasting year dot. In fact, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC-US) owes its existence to a court order demanding that NBC spin off some of its radio stations.

 

I think there’s a bit of an affection amongst Americans towards the Peacock. It used to be that when you travelled overseas, especially to Europe, you’d see CNN and NBC programming which would allow you to keep in step with what was going on at home.

 

I’m from the last generation that can really remember NBC ruling the ratings, particularly on Thursday nights where the Cosby Show begat Seinfeld which begat Friends which begat…nothing.

 

And now, nbc (intentional lower case) has become hammered and nailed to fourth place, behind FOX! The network that most nights only has 2 hours of network programming. Let’s not even get started with the Olympics coverage which is managing to be successful despite an ever growing animosity towards it.

 

Well, I’d like to offer a suggestion to nbc’s woes.

 

Nationalisation.

 

I know, scary thought, but GM & Chrysler survived it and are now turning a profit, perhaps nationalising might make us love the Peacock again.

 

Television is such a part of what it is to be American, that it seems only right that we shouldn’t allow one of the big names to be a whipping boy.  We allow television programming into our homes to become a de facto member of the family, so by extension, why don’t actually make it a family member?

 

Ah, but if nbc is making money, then why does it need saving?

 

Well, NBC Universal is making money, because it’s a gigantic behemoth that incorporates theme parks, movies, and cable channels (it’s even owned by a cable provider–Comcast). nbc, the network, not so much.

 

So, what I’m suggesting is that we spin off NBCU‘s charity case network from the behemoth and let it get back to basics.

 

Right, now that NBC is on its own, let’s take a look at what we’ve got: A still prestigious name in the world of news and sports with one of the biggest networks of stations in the entire country, but with a programming that while often critically-lauded, seems to still keep it in 4th place.

 

Here’s the fun part.

 

If NBC becomes the public-service broadcaster  of the US, then into its corporate laws and regulations could be written that ratings aren’t the determining factor, relevance  is.

 

Use that wide nationwide network to go canvass the opinion of the American public. Instead of a group of LA-based executives trying to find out what will play in Peoria, why not let Peoria into the programming room from the  very beginning. You might very well be surprised.

 

What about the PBS stations?

 

I’m so glad you asked that question: PBS is its own animal and it’s also NOT really a public-service broadcaster. It’s more like community access television with better equipment, with all the sponsorship ads, it’s also beginning to look more like a highbrow commercial network rather than the non-profit collective that it is supposed to be.

 

Here in Australia, there are two public service television networks: The ABC (note the article), or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and SBS, or the Special Broadcasting Corporation. They manage to get along like peas in a pod of 25 million plus people, surely NBC & PBS could in a pod ten times that size.

 

Let’s give PBS the ability to run commercials and let’s kick the commercials off NBC.

 

This will have the added benefit of ending the much-dreaded PBS pledge drive, because all that commercial revenue now goes into keeping the network running and all the excess goes back to the government which could lead to tax breaks.

 

As for NBC, let’s start by funding it with a levy across all television networks, stations, and cable operators. They might cry fowl at first, but NBC programming now is “the nation’s programming” and they get it for free, perhaps not first, but they get news and sport coverage past and present for free, because they would’ve paid for it.

 

Plus, a leaner NBC, more focused on providing programming, won’t be so obsessed with haemorrhaging money for actual content.

 

Just a modest proposal.

 

NBC Peacock

NBC Peacock (Photo credit: afagen)

 

 

 

OOCT 2012: Part Two

Welcome to OOCT 2012. Previously in Part 1, 5 & 13 managed to commentate without becoming intrusive (at least compared to the peacock’s crew).

Will they manage to do so during The Abide With Me section?

5 explains that it’s a memorial to everyone who couldn’t be there. (Already they’re one up on NBC who didn’t air this section, preferring to air an interview with Ryan Seacrest.)

5 uses “English” when he means “British.” He’d ought to know better.

David Beckham brings the torch in via speedboat. (The maturation of Cool Britannia.)

The Memorial dance is very touching. The use of colour is remarkable and striking choice.

5 & 13 haven’t said a single thing beyond introducing Emeli Sande’.

And now we get to the Parade of Nations.

Did the Greek team’s sheer joy at being there warm your heart as it did mine?

Gaze totally oblivious to the symbolism of Afghanistan and the fact that every team this year has female athletes, an Olympic first.

American Samoa: Yes, it’s part of the US, but every US Territory/commonwealth can participate on its own. Which is why I find it odd that the constituent nations of the UK don’t do so.

Angola: No mention of Black Gold.

Argentina: 5 says they got a warm welcome. I heard a dull roar myself.

Australia: Go Lauren. Yes, I choked up.

Shut up, Gaze.

They still look like private school uniforms.

5 & Co. go on and on about AOC facts, but it’s understandable at this point.

Austria, Azerbaijan, and several other countries skipped over, to land on Bahrain.

No mention of the turmoil there.

Bangladesh gets a cheer, no explanation by 5 & Co. In fact the camera stays on Lauren Jackson.

5 rattles off facts about Belgium, but the camera is still on Lauren Jackson.

Now 5 & Co. are getting annoying and offensive.

They get back on track with Bhutan, but the camera is still on the Australian flag, missing out on Bosnia.

Subtext to what 5 & Co. say about Brazil: They’re a threat to Australia, but if we don’t say it, maybe it won’t happen.

On some level, I think 5 & Co. wish Australia came further in the running order.

5 confuses Burundi with Burkina Faso and calls it “Upper Volta.”

Canada = old according to 13.

They start to play West End Girls. Finally.

PRC: Huge roar. 5 & Co. give the Brazilian subtext.

Camera focuses in on Brazilian flag. Hmm.

Cook Islands: They are in free association with NZ. Camera cuts quickly to Australian team. Hmm.

Cuba: Wish I could’ve heard the NBC commentary.

Czech Republic: I want those boots.

DPRK: Wink & miss by our numbers.

Ecuador: The numbers don’t mention Assange?

El Salvador: 13 reiterates Danny Boyle’s “for the people” theme.

Fiji: The numbers talk about the Bee Gees. Wow, that’s really cold.

France: Big cheer. They look as happy as the Greeks. The numbers just give facts.

Germany: Big cheer. Gaze gives facts. I’m floored by the bizarre uniforms.

Ghana: The team is rather morose, possibly because the president just died. No reference to it by the numbers.

Guam: See American Samoa.

Hong Kong, China: OUCH. The numbers miss this moment.

Iceland: Very austere.

Independent Olympic Athletes: The numbers don’t explain fully that these are athletes who for whatever reason, cannot be attached to a country (i.e. their country has no Olympic committee.)

India: Big reaction, but the numbers are slow to pick up.

Indonesia: Numbers miss out on any neighbour references.

Iraq: I think we are now at the point where Iraqi participation is normal and no one talks about the war.

Ireland: Huge cheer. Numbers give their facts.

Italy: More stylish uniforms than the French.

Japan totally skipped over!?

South Korea: The uniforms seem more like those from the tropics. Gaze gives an interesting story about one of the Korean athletes.

Kyrgyzstan: The flag bearer is jaw-droppingly handsome. The numbers give no detail.

Liberia: Understandably, this is just another country to the numbers, but I, personally, liked seeing the Liberians. Probably many other Americans were as well.

Libya: The numbers totally miss the significance.

Lithuania: Yes, Gaze, I get the guy is massive. Doesn’t excuse you lot missing Libya.

Luxembourg: Is that Clay Aitken representing the Duchy?

Madagascar: Gaze has finally shut up about the Lithuanian.

Malaysia: No news references.

Camera goes to bored Australian basketballers.

Malta skipped over.

Marshall Islands: Totally independent now.

Mexico: Huge cheer. Why? I don’t know.

Micronesia: Are they totally independent now or still in association?

Monaco: Prince Albert not competing.

Mongolia: Doing the tropical thing.

Myanmar: No political reference?

Nauru: 5 says “one of our neighbours” and leaves it at that. Not going to touch that hot potato.

Netherlands: Numbers start waking up because they know NZ is coming soon.

NZ: 13 does a very good job with her facts. Significance not quite acknowledged.

Camera focuses in on NZ team.

Norway: 5 does eulogise the Norwegian swimmer.

Palau: The flag bearer is wearing a George Washington wig? Hmm.

Palestine: Huge cheer. 13 & camera focus on Layne Beachley.

PNG: At least they get a “neighbours” reference from 5.

Australians acting up. Gaze jokingly admonishes them. Shut up, Gaze.

I have to give the odd-numbered network major credit for not going to an ad break.

Portugal: Now, 5 chooses to make a reference to the economic situation? Portuguese team looks quaintly happy in contrast.

Puerto Rico: I can hear the “why is Puerto Rico separate from the US” confusion in the Numbers voice.

Russia: When did Russia get tropical?

Rwanda: Finally an acknowledgement of the political strife.

Samoa: Only now do the Numbers acknowledge that people in Australia would be interested in teams other than Australia.

Attention Numbers: Slovakia is not Slovenia and v.v.

Somalia: The Numbers fail to make note of the significance.

South Africa: 5 talks about Castor Semenya. I’m dumbfounded on how they missed Somalia. Not even a “this is Somalia!” But yes, 5, Semenya is a controversial choice, like you lot ignoring what is likely the first team from Somalia since the 1980s or 90s.

Spain: Gaze drools about Pau Gasol. The Spanish team is upbeat, not up there with the French and the Greeks. 5 goes on about the Double Amputee from the RSA. Are you planning on taking Hot Seat to Cape Town, 5? WTF? You missed talking about SOMALIA and you’re still going on about the RSA and we’re already at Spain?!

13 talks about how the Spanish uniforms were donated.

Sri Lanka: 5 talks about the huge Sri Lankan community in Australia. (Huge Maltese one as well and you skipped over them.)

Sudan: The numbers talk about clothes and 5 makes a reference to the political situation. (You still missed SOMALIA!)

Sweden: They look like a really big Rowing club. 5 gives them the Brazilian commentary.

Switzerland: 5 gives them the Brazilian commentary as well. This is not good.

Syria: No reference to politics at all. (13? You co-present a breakfast show, you have the ability to go there and you couldn’t make any acknowledgement?)

Timor-Leste: No reference to politics or being a neighbour!?

Tonga: See Timor-Leste.

Trinidad & Tobago: No Nicki Minaj references…by the team.

Tunisia: 13 talks about the Arab Spring (you still missed Libya).

Turkey: 5 gives a very convoluted story about a defecting Turkish weightlifter back in 1956.

Tuvalu: “Halfway between Australia and Hawaii” says 13.

Dancing Australians.

Ukraine: The Ukrainian Andrew Gaze, I shudder at the thought.

The United States: I know I’ve made a big to-do about the traditional links between the US & France, but our formerly made-in-China by Ralph Lauren uniforms make us look more French than the actual French. Is this the US Olympic team or the staff for the Dover-Calais ferry?

Attention 5: The first name of the President of the US is pronounced “Bah-ROCK” not “Bah-RACK.” I know it’s spelled that way, but it’s not pronounced that way, y’see?

Gaze drools about the Dream Team.

The uniforms kind of lessen my emotion, but I’m proud of the team.

Venezuela: Gaze & 13 still in awe about the Dream Team. Multimillionaires they may be, but only a few years ago they got their egos fricasseed when they thought they were too cool to represent the US.

(US) Virgin Islands: See Puerto Rico.

Great Britain: Why aren’t they the United Kingdom? If the US looked odd, the UK looks peculiar. Is it an homage to Sir Elton? The numbers give more facts per second than humanly possible.

Random rock band mumbles their way through a song. I pick up the words “1984,” “Rio,” and “looking.”

Oh, that’s the Arctic Monkeys? Do. Not. Live. Up. To. The. Hype. In my view.

Cycling doves to Come Together Pleasantly trippy.

Go away Arctic Monkeys though.

Lord Coe makes hay of his 15 minutes.

One day we’ll have an IOC president who can speak English clearly.

HM:TQ finally gets to open the games.

The Numbers try to explain who the UN Goodwill Ambassadors are, but are drowned out by the announcers doing the exact same thing.

Yes, 5, we know who Muhammad Ali is.

Anthem.

Surely Becks and the torch must be there already, and indeed, here comes the final part of the relay.

Olympic oath. And it goes on and on and on.

Torch finally enters stadium and we all know what happened next.

Well, the Numbers really let themselves down with this section.

And I’m still perplexed by the US & UK uniforms.

So if that’s the button you’re looking for, blame Ralph Lauren

The Inherent Flaw

There’s a singing contest that’s doing great here in Australia.

It proclaims to be all about the basics of singing, and for the first week it was.

This week it has gone to the next round and all the earnestness about being about the basics has gone.

I won’t get into too much detail, but it’s relatively hilarious to see everyone (particularly those affiliated with the network that airs it) still believe that the show is continuing to promote the lofty ideals of its first week.

Granted, only time will tell, but the likely winner is appearance and not vocal ability.