Saturday, 8 September 2007

The Glories and Vexations of the Guardian Guide (Updated)

Well, I don't know what I was expecting -- that somehow the Guide (the Guardian's weekly TV Guide equivalent, with various cultural events written up as well) would ditch their near-weekly Studio 60 reviews to instead praise yet another mediocre sketch show, or that Andrew Mueller would have spontaneously discovered sanity -- but it's happened again. I won't quote the review in full, because if you haven't seen the show it sounds fairly reasonable, but: "There's little doubt where [Sorkin's] sympathies lie, but he's punctilious in letting the opposite case be put humanely and articulately." Certainly this was the case with The West Wing, but with Studio 60, Sorkin manages not only to rehash WW plots (as he did, endlessly, in this stretched-out two-parter) but to shit all over them, tarnishing every good memory you had of his previous work. When a character's Midwestern parents are such rubes that they have never heard of any form of media except Fox News, and are assholes to boot, that's not punctilious fairness to the opposite case. That's just shitty writing.

Okay, I'm not going to write about this anymore, because it just makes me angry. You win, Andrew Mueller! You have beaten me, sir, and not through the force of your argument but by the strength and scope of your madness. (And if it's not madness then I have to believe it's subtle sarcasm, or payoffs from Channel 4.)

Though happily there was a contradiction to this insanity earlier in the Guide -- Jonathan Bernstein, who has his own column on shows from America. was writing about shows that are coming to the UK in the next couple months:

When NBC announced its 2006 schedule would feature two fictional shows purporting to examine the inner workings of Saturday Night Live, the critical consensus was that Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 would be quoted, praised and discussed at length. As it turned out, Studio 60 was smug, confused and, on no occasion, funny. 30 Rock's breakneck pace, unabashed absurdity and ridiculously gifted ensemble -- headed by writer Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan -- helped it blossom into the funniest network sitcom since Seinfeld.

Finally! Okay, I know this is the standard line that American journalists have been taking for months and months, and that Jonathan Bernstein is reporting from America, so it's not exactly a radical viewpoint. But still -- it's the first mention like this I've seen in UK newspapers (though AdmiralNeck has told me that he's seen a UK reviewer or two start to turn on the show), so it's to be welcomed. (We've ordered the Region 1 DVD of 30 Rock's first season, btw, so prepare yourself for endless fawning praise as we rewatch it.)

Also in this week's guide we have critic John Patterson ranting about James Mangold's decision to remake 3:10 to Yuma. Apparently he is shocked -- shocked! -- that Mangold chose to remake a decent old movie instead of an "untouchable" (his word) classic like Once Upon A Time in the West, because the latter would have more political relevance. What?? Isn't is a better idea to remake old movies that weren't that good in the first place (see Ocean's Eleven) instead of trying to improve on classics? People seem offended when classics are remade and merely perplexed when middling oldies are improved on -- as if this was really a strange idea, to want to improve on a movie that had some good ideas but failed in the execution of them. But Patterson seems most outraged that the movie seems to have no political relevance (I've not seen it yet, but it sounds like a relatively straightforward adventure plot) -- something he apparently feels a Western must have.

Why, exactly, are Westerns in particular beholden to comment on current political troubles? Was he outraged that City Slickers didn't comment on the Gulf War, or that Young Guns II didn't metaphorically reference the inner workings of trade sanctions? He explains by saying that since George Bush and Dick Cheney are "pseudo-Westerners" and they are trying to accomplish their "Mid-Eastern Manifest Destiny", Mangold should have picked up on this and made his big post-Stalk the Line movie something akin to Apocalypse Now. I don't even know where to begin with this, except to say that while 3:10 to Yuma looks like it'll be a great, fun movie, I really don't think Mangold has Apocalypse Now just boiling inside him, straining to get out. If I'm wrong, Mangold, I forgive you everything I said about Kate & Leopold. (Though to tell you the truth, Hugh Jackman was really charming in that, and I already kind of forgive you anyway.) However, I will NEVER forgive you Identity.

In other movie news, Superman Returns is premiering on Sky Movies this week -- it gets a lackluster review in the Guide, as it should, but Phelim O'Neill complains about Brandon Routh's lack of presence, since he seems younger than Christopher Reeve, even though they were the same age when they played the role. Even though I thought the movie itself was underwhelming, I thought Routh was wonderful -- understated, maybe, but that's no bad thing; he inhabited the role by echoing Reeve's mannerisms, though it was no impersonation, and brought a quiet dignity to both Clark Kent and Superman. He's also got sexy thighs.

However, the Guide gets an overall pass this week because it features a random picture of Matter-Eater Lad chomping on what looks like someone's garden trellis -- yes, he is real, and I am furious that no one's making a movie about him. Ant Man gets a deal and yet there's no love for Matter-Eater Lad? (It's the "Lad" that makes him so special.)

Oh, and the Guide shows us that it looks like our tireless campaigning for Peter Serafinowicz has paid off: he's got his own show! It will be on BBC2 in October! Suck it, Doctor Who and your Sopranos-esque hiatuses! Peter Serafinowicz doesn't need you! There's an awesome picture of him high-kicking with his arms in the air, as if to say, "Thank God I'm not on ITV!" but I can't find it online. Oh well. Go, you confusingly-spelled comedy titan, go!

Finally, I leave this random post with this, one of 30 Rock's finest moments. Even if you don't know who Barbara Walters is, I think you can still heartily enjoy this moment.

Update: Further to my iPhone love from a couple days ago, I found this quote from Nathan Fillion (star of Firefly and Slither) about it [by way of the OTZ]:

I have one. Can I say that it has made my day better? Can I say that it has amazed me with its wonders? Can I honestly say that it has improved the quality of my life? Yes. Whilst others click, poke and plod along with their "smart" phones, I rub, slide, flick, and pinch like I'm on a third date at a county fair.

As if I needed another reason to love Nathan Fillion! Please become a bigger star immediately, you magnificent bastard!


sjwoo said...

The Rural Juror...a classic moment. Since we watch with captioning on, it was doubly funny. When Jenna first talks about the movie, the captioning read something like: "The Rrrrrrl Jrrrrrl."

As far as Superman Returns is concerned, I think a significant flaw with it was how much Singer wanted to play off of the original movie. I saw the first Superman after watching Returns, and it was just staggering how many little references I'd missed. The problem is that Superman isn't a part of the canon of classic movies to be rewatched (i.e., it's not Star Wars, or Jaws, etc.), so I think these little wink-wink nudges were lost on a lot of people.

For me, the best Superman story came out last year, in the form of a novel by Tom De Haven. Lex Luthor is scary in this book, a real villain, and it's just really refreshing. The audiobook read by Scott Brick is an achievement.

Canyon said...

We have that audiobook on the laptop (I think you gave it to us), but neither of us have gotten around to listening to it. We will, though! At some unspecified but near date in the future!

Did you hear that Will Arnett is going to be guesting on 30 Rock again this season? Touch the peacock in honor!

johnilf said...


Canyon said...


Masticator said...

The Guardian (Unlimited) is at it again, crowbarring some praise for Studio 60 (and contempt for the unwashed hordes who failed to worship it with sufficent awe) into a blog about Matt LeBlanc.

Admiral Neck said...

Thanks for the heads-up. They just won't let it drop, will they. And as a result, neither will I. Never stop fighting until the fight is won!

Masticator said...

Never give up. Never surrender.