Identity – Second Life

When you find out where they’ve been, you’ll discover where they’re going.

Keeley Hawes Identity DSI Martha Lawson

DSI Martha Lawson

This is not me trotting out pop-philosophy following on my brief flirtation with pop-psychology in my last post. Rather this is the strapline for the new to STV (Scottish TV) show Identity.

Identity is a crime-drama – when you encounter a new drama on ITV there is a better than evens chance that it will be a crime-drama. Though it is new to STV it is not new to British TV. British people not living in Scotland (I am now navigating a political trip-wire here!) would have had the chance to become acquainted with DI John Bloom and DSI Martha Lawson back in 2010. Why the STV program controllers thought to hold it off to its Scottish viewers to 2012 I do not know. We are quite provincial about Scottish crime dramas it seems – much loved but now deceased crime soap The Bill always had significantly lower viewing figures north of the Hadrian Walls than south of it and when it comes to geographical divides it is never about North versus South but West versus East and I am not invoking the Cold War either rather of Glasgow’s Taggart and Edinburgh’s Rebus and never the twain shall meet – joined up policing, as if! But as much as we Scots like Taggart and as ever-running as it is, it cannot have been this that kept Identity off the STV schedules.

Perhaps that is what Scottish Independence will come down too – good riddance to you say the English and you can keep your Taggart too and with two fingers back in return (for the sanctity of stereotypes if not poetic license at least, we are less polite) ‘aye and the same to you and you can take your Midsomer Murders and stick it where the sun don’t shine and I don’t mean Manchester!…shame on me for making parochial meteorological allusions in a blog being read all over the world!!

The Scottish Independence debate will not of course be as churlish as this.

But as gripping as the vagaries of regional TV scheduling is for us all I think I should move on to the show itself.

Just as there is a high chance that a new ITV drama will be a crime drama there is in turn another high chance if it is a crime drama that it will be an adaptation of a crime book, preferably a long running serial  And in turn yet again if so a very high chance that its author will be Lynda La Plante.

Keeley Hawes IdentitySo what about Identity. This does seem to be written for Television. It is certainly not an adaptation of Milan Kundera’s 1999 Identity and the only other book titles I could find called Identity were dry sociological studies and tracts concerning what it is that makes us who we are, and who we are not.

Its creator is Ed Whitmore. He wrote it, directed it, produced it. Identity then is his baby. His TV CV is threaded through by crime too – Silent Witness, Waking the Dead, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and on – he has even written one episode of US crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The Internet Movie Database tells me this and that he wrote a TV movie also called Identity in 2011. I have not seen this but it is as you might expect based on this TV series. It stars Angela Bassett and Orlando Jones so I am just guessing that it is a version made in the USA. Curiously though it has no reviews and is awaiting five ratings – what exactly does that mean?! And like the falling unheard tree in the woods if a film has not been reviewed did it ever exist. For a film called Identity it seemed somewhat fitting.

What’s that you say, there is a TV program to be reviewed, oh yes, so there is…

Before recording this to review – sorry going to have to keep you waiting a bit longer, or am I by now talking to myself – that would have been a good strapline for my blog actually – I had to make space for it on my PVR and so watched another program toward deleting it. This was Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook broadcast on BBC2 December 2011. It was a look at Mark Zuckerberg’s astonishing Facebook success – his life before Facebook, his life since. It was presented by Emily Maitlis and it was a surprising yet also unsurprising reveal of Mark Zuckerberg depending perhaps on whether you had seen The Social Network. But this paragraph does have a relevant point to this review. Namely that Facebook is about identity, about privacy, about truths, half-truths and lies. The identity we want the world to see.

The opening episode of Identity was called Second Life an obvious allusion to the Second Life website and digital world within a world. Except that Second Life could also describe Facebook.

This opening episode is about stolen identity.

Are we rightly vigilant about our identity becoming lost let alone stolen online or have we been scare-mongered into paranoia, paper-shredding away our existence, by a traditional mainstream media using fear to sell copy?

Alas fear it seems sells more than hope.

The stealer of identity in this opening episode was near-invisible, a shadow of a shadow, wreaking havoc on seemingly unrelated victims.The thief-of-selves had no government records, no private financial accounts or traces of purchase transactions, no credit card used – a cash only circumspect existence.

Aidan Gillen Identity

Aidan Gillen

This then was not just any old crime but a rarefied crime. The police investigating it would need to be of a specialized unit – and as likely to be sat infront of a computer screen as burning up rubber in pursuit of some common-place knife-wielding villain. And how to make police officers in swivel chairs and a mouse not a gun in hand dramatic? Well there would be plenty of opportunity for going undercover – good old fashioned private dick stuff – and those that do remain stuck back in the office have plenty of opportunity to overwhelm if not astound us by bleeding edge tomorrow-is-already-happening technology.

The head of this team was the aforementioned (aforementioned about a thousand words ago weren’t you paying attention?!) DSI Martha Lawson played by Keeley Hawes. She is the people-manager of this team of inevitably brilliant misfits. It is also her brain-child and baby and she is keen to nurture it in the face of a not always empathetic police hierarchy. Her career and reputation are on the line. It might not be worth mentioning that she has played a TV cop before as any British actor worth their salt – and Keeley Hawes is definitely worth her salt, whatever that actually means, I understand it to be something damn well good – as played at least one TV cop – in her case as Alex Drake in the insufficiently over-rated Ashes to Ashes. It might not be worth mentioning but as you can see I did anyway.

Her team includes the also aforementioned DI John Bloom played by Aidan Gillen who first came to my attention in the late 1990’s as Stuart Jones in Queer As Folks. For any American readers (as if, there are always American readers!) you may have seen him as Mayor Thomas ‘Tommy’ Carcetti in The Wire – I watched and enjoyed The Wire and only say this because as a blogger-reviewer of TV programs I am not allowed to say otherwise. You as a reader of blogs may have been watching one of the endless CSI franchises instead. The key factor about John Bloom is that he worked previously as an under-cover cop, deep undercover – he thinks like criminals do having breathed their company for longer than he should have, it takes one to no-one, that sort of thing…

Identity Holly Aird and Shaun Parkes

Shaun Parkes and Holly Aird

These were the two characters allowed to spread their wings in the first episode. DS Anthony Wareing’s wings were kept in check but his character’s brooding more black-and-white view of crime and criminals was clearly as counter-weight to his more liberal-minded colleagues. Moral relativists in the police force, what is the world coming to! He is played by Shaun Parkes.

In programs such as this – let us say ‘CSI like’ as it has the widest cultural resonance – don’t all reflex at once – largest viewership then – there is at least one on the team who is office-bound, socially awkward, a super-intelligent geek, who will be feverishly tapping away at his or her Mac keyboard (sorry PC users but you know its true!) muttering to themselves as they go as no-one else will listen to them or certainly not understand them anyway. In Identity this is Tessa Stein played by Holly Aird.

In this Second Life her first moment of earning her cop chops is being able to track this seemingly invisible villain’s location to a petrol-station because, get this, they used their Nectar card. For all non-British readers this is a Supermarket Loyalty Card – I won’t say which Supermarket as well for one thing WordPress does not allow advertising on this blog so where’s the Quid pro quo in that. At the time I was musing to myself ‘wow fancy that my supermarket loyalty card can betray my movements, not just my guilty purchases’.

But wait for a moment. We are being asked to believe that this stealer of identities, so careful to protect their own identity that they leave not even a footstep in the snow behind, cannot stomach buying their petrol with cash without getting Reward points from their supermarket of choice?! Though I guess when you are running up other people’s credit cards to the tune of hundreds of thousands of British pounds those loyalty points really do add up and unlike the cocaine you are wolfing back they are not to be sniffed at.

Nevertheless it is this complacency with their customer loyalty card that leads the detectives to close in.

I found the final reveal to be surprising and clever if also a little contrived – as if they realized the hour was soon to be up and this was no two-parter and they better move from a stroll to a canter. It was a story-line that would have been better served over a couple of episodes.

I hope you have appreciated how I have not overly plot-spoiled for those who have not seen it – which I am guessing will be most of you – even to the extent of using gender-neutral language to describe him sorry her, them!

This Second Life episode has certainly whet my appetite for more even one whose appetite for crime drama is a sated one.

Identity has identified a current visceral fear no matter how reasonable or not that fear might be. It is certainly a contemporary bogey and ripe for TV drama.

I hope that Identity delivers.

Money – who wants to be a billionaire?

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?Do you dear reader want to become rich beyond all your wildest imagining, all without having to work? Catch? There’s no catch, what do you take me for?!

Money is a new three-part documentary, currently showing on BBC 2, presented by Vanessa Engle, exploring our personal attitudes to money. Vanessa Engle also produced and directed Money and is building up an impressive CV of singular documentary-style series such as Jews, Lefties and from last year Women.

The first episode ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ asks if anyone can get rich if they truly apply themselves? And by rich it is meant material wealth – put aside any thoughts here of a pursuit for spiritual and or philosophical fulfilment. And do not spend time to consider whether some professions may lend themselves to great wealth more easily than others, or that others might be more rewarding of dedication than other career paths. No this not about any laborious get-rich slowly-and-surely and then only perhaps.

Vanessa Engle

Vanessa Engle

No, this is your do nothing or something very close to nothing and get rich doing it, and pronto, do you hear!

How we can get the most from doing the least possible.

Yes, do not exhort us here to study hard, work hard and with a bit of luck thrown in we will conquer all we survey, malarkey.

No, this is your classic get-rich-quick scam coughs! scheme – I wonder in their history if there has ever been a scheme that was not a sham, a scam, a spam? You know the thing – ‘I earned £1238.29p in one day for just two hours work just for undertaking some routine task but with a special unknown secret which I will disclose to you, because frankly I like you, you have a nice face, so because I like you I am offering you it for a special time-limited price of £99.99 – sadly as much as I do like you, and I really do like you, this is a one time offer, so act and act now etc etc’. We know who is getting rich here. Or so we might think. But as this documentary shows there really is one born every second. Sucker that is. Incidentally there is available another version of this post which shares some of my own secrets to instant wealth – just contact me and for a £10 PayPal donation I will share it with you.

These days with a documentary as likely to be a mockumentary it is not always immediately clear if what we are watching is some serious exposé or a dry spoof. Was this another Brass-eye or the real Alan Whicker?

Vanessa Engle was adopting the Louis Theroux approach to documentary-making and interviewing – the give them enough rope and let them hang themselves slowly technique. Nothing we could possibly script could outdo the words coming out of their own mouths of their own free-will. You never have to make it up!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

The ones born every second

This program looked at both those getting rich off the schemes and those getting schemed by those who have gotten rich by them.

Those generally getting rich being those promoting and selling them – who write expensive books and run even more expensive intensive weekend seminars. Those generally not getting rich being those who read said expensive books and sign up to said expensive seminars.

Those providing these schemes are referred to, by themselves at least, as Wealth Trainers or Gurus (the latter term always a red-flag in my book) featured in this episode were Robert Kiyosaki and T Harv Eker (a botch of consonants and vowels half-heartedly attempting to be a name). Both have websites I am sure and equally certainly only a few seconds after having landed on the home-page we will be bombarded by pop-ups asking us to sign up now for life-changing wealth-enhancing secrets in the form of downloadable e-Books. I don’t actually know this but I have a sense that I do – call it my sixth sense for bullshit. You reader are a responsible adult and quite capable of making your own decision as whether you wish to venture forth into their web-domain.

Not all of those who try to get rich quick get poorer even more quickly. Some do actually hit the jackpot – and I think jackpot is the key phrase here!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The program starts by one of those jackpot winners – a married-couple sitting on a good size property portfolio and living comfortably off its combined rental income but equally tellingly making even more income by marketing their success to others – I got rich quick so you can too sort of thing.

And the husband of this couple casually making this gob-smacking statement

there is enough money in the world for everyone to be millionaires!

Even if there was and we each received a million-dollar cheque I am thinking that there might then be rapid price rises – excitingly, frighteningly called hyper-inflation – and we would be none the wealthier for all those extra zeroes on each of our respective bank balances. For any excessive wealth to exist there must exist alongside it an excessive level of poverty? But I digress. The husband however would not be put-off by my Marx-Lite dialectic and indeed goes on to add that the reason that we do not live in a world full of millionaires is because most of us choose not to be a millionaire. Content instead to tend our gardens and stare wistfully at TV programs like this.

Actually this was not the first clip in this program –  the opening, fleetingly, laying-the-groundwork clip was one of these wealth guru’s asking, no imploring, their audience, whether they wanted to be rich and whether they wanted to be happy and – wait for it – whether they wanted to be rich and happy. Yes please and can I have a side-order of spiritual fulfilment too? I can?, lovely!

Cue Travie McCoy and Billionaire –

I want to be a billionaire so frickin’ bad, buy all the things I never had

(We were incidentally beyond the water-shed but it was the version with the cuddly F Word that was being used not the moral-corrupting Gordon Ramsay patent-applied version carousing our apparently innocent ears.)

playing on the program soundtrack as we witness hordes of the wealth-expectant as if they were attending church and a congregation waiting to be blessed the ancient secrets of extreme wealth for very little effort from this alchemist preacher of the cash-dispensing pulpit.

And let me be clear I am not disdaining any of them their desire to get rich, no matter how quick and easy they seem to think it should come. I am no self-lacerating protestant work-ethic touting nine-to-five wage-slave worker-drone cheer-leading Neo-Con lackey me! What is it with working hard to get by if you can work smart and fly high? We already have programs tapping into this entrepreneurial spirit such as Britain’s Next Big Thing and Dragon’s Den but it is usually notable from watching such programs that those who prosper do so not as a means to an end of luxury and idleness but as an almost accidental by-product. Such self-made (not lottery-made and inheritance-made) millionaires usually live to work not to escape work – however cash rich they become they are usually forever time poor.

Being cash-rich and time-rich now there’s an elusive butterfly

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The first of those trying to net this gossamer butterfly was Janice, a 38 year old leisure nurse from Ilford Essex – for Janice though The Only Way Is Out of Essex. Janice has post-it notes strewn across her furnishings and fittings with statements such as ‘I am a Millionaire’ and ‘Health and Wealthy’ alongside recycled food jars now serving as penny-expectant piggy-banks as she sings ‘Ka-ching’ whilst loading another tuppence into their plastic bowels.

She might get penny rich but she is clearly pound poor. Her largest account balances alas are negative being the tens of thousands she has racked up on her credit cards attending wealth creating seminars and purchasing the various attendant merchandise.

One particular post-it note says ‘I’m a millionaire, thank you’! When asked by Vanessa Engle who she was thanking she without much hesitation retorted ‘The universe’! A slightly quasi-religious secular variation of praying for rain to fertilise your crops, the crops in this case being – well there’s your first problem – Janice is of the belief she should be visited upon by vast riches just for being, well, Janice. A gross and grotesque sense of entitlement if ever there was one, but not one alas confined to Janice alone but to the hundreds and thousands who attend these wealth seminars.

These wealth seminars which are pyramid schemes of we get rich by picking your pockets and all you need to do is to find another thousand poor souls (literally and figuratively) to pick their pockets.

For Janice herself does have a job which is low paid with long hours and she is hard-working. She is charming too but alas easily charmed in return.

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?The next featured looking to get rich were a young teenage couple – the girlfriend declaiming that she finds the whole idea of having a job quite ridiculous! To her a global paradise of jobless people – nothing being done save attending wealth seminars and those who provide them sunning themselves on beaches – but who to serve them their cold Martini’s the would-be waiters now closeted off in darkened rooms chanting into the ether ‘I am a deserving worthy individual, universe shower just a little of your vast wealth upon me’!

Vanessa Engle’s programs as noted lets those so filmed speak for themselves unscripted and the quotes they make are indeed priceless. The girlfriend then goes on to say quite reasonably that working for a pittance does not appeal and then states quite casually and extremely unreasonably

unlimited income is what appeals to me!

Not even mere vast riches but riches without end – is that too much for her to ask?!

In a later scene we see this teenage couple about to attend yet another seminar (surprising isn’t it that one seminar is never enough and that the failure of said seminar to make them wealthy encourages not discourages them to attend even more!) and with a Tesco plastic carrier bag in hand. When asked what the contents were they share some basic grocery because they say the cost of the meals on offer inside is very expensive – who would have thought that! Still a lesson is being learned – wealth protection is key to wealth accumulation!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?We learn that she was first set on this path by reading Rich Dad Poor Dad by self-styled wealth-guru Robert Kiyosaki at age 12 – what a book to read at age 12! She now has shelves and shelves of such books – Ka-ching – no not Janice stealing in from another scene but the ghostly voice of Kiyosaki himself!

Later we see the two of them visiting an Estate Agents with another male couple in tow as their mentor and consultant respectively (for very reasonable fees we can but assume) and absurdly informing the estate agent that they are looking to set up a property portfolio and to buy a number of flats and houses in the local area. We had previously discovered that they have a net worth just shy of less-than-zero – with what were they going to buy all these properties then let alone one? – how much bricks-and-mortar can fairy-dust buy?!

These are but two of those followers (for it is a kind of money cult?) featured in this program to give you a taster – I am not going to detail the others as the program itself does an excellent job of portraying them and their money-filled dreams.

We though also get to see the wealth gurus themselves – in action delivering their seminars on stage, their luxurious homes and cars, and in face to face interview with Vanessa Engle.

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

Robert Kiyosaki

The first so introduced is the aforementioned Robert Kiyosaki and his book ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ – wealth-guru, author, thin-air salesman, scam-artist. These are words that some might say about him. I am letting you make up your own mind though!

He shared with Vanessa Engle the very reasonable observation that wealth is about knowing your assets from your liabilities – giving an example that if he had a car and rented it out as a cab it would be an asset but if he merely owned the car it would be a liability. This at least was not quack-economics.

Later we see the man with the tongue-strangling name T Harv Eker author of ‘Secrets of the Millionaire Mind’. Like Robert Kiyosaki (oh dear reader I hope their names aren’t trade-marked and that I need to pay rental income to them for each time I use them!) he has the habit of slurring words into the microphone sprouting out of his left-ear as he addresses his audience – the sound of their own oily words leaving a bad taste in their mouth that even their own silvery tongues cannot overcome?!

Unlike Robert Kiyosaki who does at least believe to become rich you need to be financially educated Mr Eker (for I shall now refer to him as that) – extols only that you need to believe and chant ‘I am a successful money manager’. At this point I could only break into laughter wondering if perhaps this was a Ricky Gervais out-take I was in fact watching after-all!

I did not laugh as much as his next declaration that

I am probably best known as a cross between Donald Trump and Buddha

The most tangential script-writer could never have written that!

Money - Who wants to be a millionaire?

T Harv Eker…ick!

There is nothing I would even try adding to this statement! T Harv Eker presents a telling concoction of smiling mouth and unsmiling eyes. His memorable quotes does not exhaust with the above frightening cartoon hybrid as he goes on to say ‘I’m a multi-multi-millionaire and you can say multi for a couple of minutes’. And an endearing way of not flouting his wealth in our faces.

Mr Eker is quick to let us know that he is first and foremost a scientist not a spiritualist – a scientist in the same way that an Astrologer or a Creationist considers themselves one. The changes to our mental attitudes we must make he says are to our neurological pathways not our Chakras – he then goes on to witter – to talk – about Energy throwing in Einstein’s iconic E=MC squared for good and meaningless measure.

Some viewers watching this episode will doubtless be outraged and angry not just at these schemes but at this program itself – that it should be investigating and exposing these charlatans. But the program with its gentle-questioning of all concerned is eliciting far more openness to the TV cameras and revelation of its practices and thoughts than if this was a hard-hitting exposé where doubtless those providing the schemes would have then retreated to the isolated cold grandeur of their gated homes and those buying into them to their bedsits with curtains closed.

Vanessa Engle’s gentle method of enquiry throws far more light upon this twilight world.

The program ends to the the sound of Cole Porter’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ with Frank Sinatra crooning in duet to Celeste Holme and answering ‘I don’t’

Who wants a marble swimming pool? I don’t. Because all I want is you.

If only the young teenage couple would realise the riches they already have.

Sorority Girls – Slooter Cahooter’s need not apply!

Sorority Girls together

The Real McCoy

I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member – Groucho Marx

Sorority Girls E4 Website Welcome Image

Arianna, Devan, Amelia, Hannah, Dominque and an old Yorkshire man (one presumes!)

I may have gotten Devan and Hannah mixed-up!

A sorority is an all-female, secret social organization for university students so says the E4 Program website – and according to that site they are a big deal at universities in the US. In British universities on the other hand they are no deal whatsoever.

Sorority Girls Chapter Meeting

A closed member meeting – just them and several million of us viewers!

Sorority Girls the reality show – by genre at least, how much of this series has much grounding in reality is debatable – in its first series from British production company 12 Yard Productions and currently airing on E4 aims to change that. Will this American export succeed or have we a failed British import on our hands?

Sorority Girls is not based on a sister show in the USA – they are hoping perhaps that students in British Universities will be inspired by watching it on TV and setting up their own Greek societies!? As likely to happen as Proms becoming a staple of British school life? Whilst E4 provides us details about the American Sorority Girls it is not forthcoming with details about the British pledges (more of that later!) so it is not even clear whether these British girls are even University Students themselves.

Or are the makers just hoping that we may just watch it as an interesting cultural and or cultish phenomenon like Amish:Worlds Squarest Teenagers and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings?

The E4 program website tells us that such societies ‘fosters growth and personal development within its members in two ways: publically through philanthropic works, social events and academic excellence, and privately through the use of ritualistic ceremonies, symbolism and closed member meetings’.

The five American cult-leaders sorry Sorority Sisters have set up home in  a spacious house in Leeds towards an inaugural British chapter. Fourteen will become five and those five will take over its running when the Americans go home. And provides a springboard if not for further British chapters then perhaps at least a second E4 series.

So then to this second episode which sees the pledges settling into their new home and first set of challenges and initiations.

Sorority Girls PledgeI pledge my allegiance to this E4 Reality TV show and will do whatever it takes to guarantee my fifteen minutes of fame, a spin-off show all-about-me on E4 and a spread in Hello Magazine.

Sorority Girls Sleeping Porch

We call this the sleeping porch, so says the House Mother, for there is one!

Triple-bunk beds to bond sisters together – if in bodily aroma at least.

Sorority Girl DominqueSorority Sister Dominique breezily explaining to us that it is Sorority tradition to kidnap members in the middle of the night put hoods around their heads and drive them to a secret location. Sort of Guantanamo-Lite!

Sorority Girls Hoods

Hooded – in the Sorority Colours of Pink and Indigo, naturally!

This also described as a bonding experience and one of them tells us with a straight face that this is something that they are going to look back on in twenty years time and remember! It is implied that the memory will be a fond one and not one that you might want to bury even as an eternity on YouTube ever-reminds you!

Sorority Girls - cloaks

Sorority Girls in cloaks – not a cult – honest!

Aren’t cloaks cool? – almost worth giving up your mind for just to get to wear one! At the secret location which is only revealed to successful sorority initiates – note that I am insidiously beginning to use the language! – as the rituals that take place there are sacred to the sorority – oh so this is not a profane act! One of the pledges on first seeing this secret sacred spot stated matter-of-factly that she thought it was a place where you take people to murder them! Their first test is to hold a block of ice to their heart in the shape of a Sigma symbol until it is fully melted – one initiate advises us that she covertly placed her ice under her arm-pit to speed the process up!

Sorority GirlsTheir next task is far less sinister – they being taken to the middle of a forest and abandoned! Well abandoned that is to orienteering and being split into two teams (the Grizzlies and the Ferrets, don’t ask!) to then navigate their way back to the House.

Sorority Girls - fake eyelashsWhile the pledges are busy getting lost in Leeds and its surroundings the Sorority team do a sweep of their room and confiscate any item not of the Sorority spirit – such as false eyelashes and fake tan!

Sorority Girls in black

Announcing the Grizzlies as the winners, the losing Ferrets are to be cast into the wilderness via Social Probation. Social Probation meaning that their pledge status is now provisional – that is their provisional membership is now provisional!! Both teams though will attend their first Present. A Present is a formal ceremony when the pledges are presented to their friends and family. But you need to know that it is Presents pronounced Pree-zents!

Sorority Girls Makeover

Sigma Gamma Makeover…J’accuse

As they are being given a Make Over by way of Preezent Preparation an initiate questions one of the Sorority Girls about her own fake-nails – implication ‘You hypocrite!’ and big mistake! For thinking for herself and not mindlessly accepting the Sorority Girl Group Think she will be one of the first to face losing her membership – known as the cull, sorry cut!

Sorority Girls - all in white

They’re all dressed in white, virginal white – their words!

Dressed in virginal white because Sorority Girls are if not virgins then chaste! However they are now told they must go on a ‘Grab date’ which means picking up a stranger off the streets in twenty minutes to be their chaperone for the first pledging ceremony that same night. Very chaste! By the way the term Slooter Cahooter (no really!) is meant as a derogatory term for a sorority sister who as dressed or behaved in a sexually inappropriate way.

Sorority Girls

Cold-dating! The Grizzlies as not on social probation are allowed to request dates from a Gym – because it is a better class of men there! The losing Ferrets though must pick up their dates on the Leeds streets. Surprising were the number of men so solicited who said ‘Yes’ – if someone walked up to me on the street and asked me for a date I am pretty sure my first response would be high suspicion! I guess the presence of TV cameras mollified some of these young men so requested!

Sorority Girls Presenting

I am not one woman but part of a collection of beautiful women, a petal on a rose…

A charming Socialist declaration written by these All-American girls – those reading the  pledge then promise to sever all ties with their old selves – remember they are not a cult! – cue camera panning to her perplexed boyfriend sitting in the audience.

Sorority Girls

Severed old-self?!

In the final section of the show the moment of reckoning arrives for the pledges.

Sorority Girls

The Judges…

Sorority Girls - in purple

…and the Judged

Sorority GirlsThe provisional provisionals, Nadia, Alex and Topaz. One whose Sorority sin was to think for herself, one who at their bonding party had a glass of wine in each hand, another who brought a male back to the Chapter Lodge after the party. These latter two examples of Sorority Girl errant behaviour are of nothing of course to implying one of your Sorority Girls is a fake-nail wearing hypocrite.

Sorority Girls

Being depearled

In the judges own words

You have been weighed and measured and found lacking

The girl so cut must remove her pink pearl necklace and slink off into the night – a petal pruned from the Sorority rose.

E4 has another new program called – wait for this! – Desperate Scousewives – like Sorority Girls it is TV I know that I should not watch but know also that I will! I just can’t help myself – like picking a scab.

Picking-a-scab Telly – have I just invented a new TV Genre!

Alphas and Misfits, Heroes and Villains

Misfits LogoAlphas cast photosA superpower is as much a curse as it is a blessing. It sets its heroes apart, it sets its heroes alone.

Alphas is a new US science-fiction drama from the Syfy channel about dysfunctional folks with superpowers currently airing on Channel 5. Misfits is a British offering of a similar theme and is back for its third series on E4.

It used to be easy enough when reviewing this genre as there were only a small clique of superheroes to cast back to – Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman… and a few others. And then there were those who whilst not necessarily what you would call superior there difference was such as to give them an edge over their fellow men and women – The Invisible Man for example.

Heroes

We can be Heroes…

This though was before 2006 and the arrival of NBC’s Heroes. Any super-power that could possibly be conceived of was it seems conceived of by the Heroes’ script-writers.

So with Alphas and Misfits you can play a game among yourselves to see which of the superpowers featured were first prototyped in Heroes. I say superpowers rather than superheroes because with both the Alpha and Misfits characters – if Misfits in particular – a number of these powers belong to those of less than heroic nature let alone super-heroic.

Alphas David Strathairn

The Good Doctor…

The Alphas in Alphas are a motley and disparate group of men and women brought together by Doctor Lee Rosen (played by David Strathairn) working for the US Government’ Department of Defence who is seeking to harness the alphas collective powers to help in the fight of good over evil (this being the comic-book story genre with its black and white morality) – like most such tales the Super Heroes are serving in effect as Super Cops – rounding up villains – and we can suppose some super-villains too, perhaps of Alphas gone bad, Alphas whose powers are being harnessed for criminal enterprises by an Evil Doctor – surely not?!

Super-powers used in the service of your country for the common good – almost a social democratic undercurrent if not socialist! The Misfits on the other hand use their super-powers for their own ends only and are not employed in any of their government’s various departments. And more of them shortly.

The current crew of alphas on the Good Doctor’s team are explained in detail on the Channel 5 program page but briefly there is Bill Harken who has the more traditional superpower of physical strength and stamina but untraditionally unlike Superman’s unlimited supply (Kryptonite not withstanding) has to conjure up this strength himself and cannot sustain it for very long.

Alphas Cameron Hicks and Bill Harken

Don’t mess with Bill

Next up is Cameron Hicks whose superpower is one of heightened balance – seriously I am not making that up! – his aim is flawless.

Next is Rachel Pirzad who has the rather cool power of being able to heighten any one of her five senses at any given time. Though this is clearly a power as much a curse has a blessing – consider a restaurant and with your sense of smell enhanced and the over-whelming aromas of the food from the kitchen and your fellow diner’s tables – consider too the over-whelming aroma of the scent of said fellow chefs and the diners – and we must assume for health and safety there would be a bathroom on site – well let’s not go there!

Then there is Nina Theroux who has the power of suggestion – to hypnotically override your thought – quite a sinister power really. The Heads of the Republican and Democrat Party will be on her trail no doubt along with countless media barons.

Alphas Ryan Cartwright

Ring my bell…

Finally there is Gary Bell who has the power to view and interact with wireless communications out of thin air – this is a very particular superpower but one in this ever connected web-age whose time clearly has come! He is also described as diagnosed with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder – he is challenging for his colleagues to work with and he is challenging for this viewer  to watch. Whether this is to the credit of the actor Ryan Cartwright and the Alphas scriptwriters or to the discredit of my own tolerance towards this condition I am not sure.

A strange brew of super-powers then – and the question then for Dr Rosen and we the viewers is whether it is potent enough to successfully fight crime and keep the US homeland secure.

With the Alphas it is assumed they were born with their powers and their being no standard metric tests, like IQ, for their talents it is only belatedly they have come to wider recognition and in particular the attention of Doctor Rosen. Here the Alphas can realise there are others like them, their poisoned-chalice superpower possession is not one they possess alone.

The Misfits in Misifts on the other hand were not born with their powers rather they were rudely visited upon them following a freak weather incident – and these powers have not just effected the main characters but other members of the public too. Misfits because the original quintet were all working on probation for various minor crimes and misdemeanors. Misfits has also done a clever trick of having another character as a broker of these weather-born powers allowing those so blessed, so cursed, to trade in one superpower for another superpower when they perhaps get bored with their current one or indeed find it far more of a curse than a blessing.

Misfit Joe

Joe, new Misfit in Town

For the third series, one of the original Misfits, Nathan Young, (played by Robert Sheehy) has left the show for Las Vegas but though what happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas a 7 minute mini-episode of his exploits are available to view for free on iTunes or online on Channel 4 here.

He has a replacement Rudy played by Joseph Gilgun who is as charismatic an actor as Robert Sheehy was. His is a very Freudian power as is Ego can split from his Id! Sometimes he and they are as one, other times his Id cuts loose to live a happy-free-loving, party-time existence. The ego meanwhile left at home to  sadly reflect his past misfortunes!

Again as with Alpha details of the Misfits are available on the E4 program page called Meet the Misfits. Though they have yet to update it with the new Misift.

Misfit Kelly Lauren Socha

Misfit Kelly

And for this series three they all back with new powers. Misfit Kelly Bailey (played by Lauren Socha) previously was able to read people’s thoughts – very much a curse as a blessing – do you want to know what someone might be thinking about you as you are talking to them?! Granted it will have some advantages – you would be a sizzling poker player, well at least until you got barred from every casino in the land, but quite an assault on ones delicate sense of self too I would think. Now she has the power of super-intelligence – she is a rocket-scientist! However though she can design elaborate plans for rocket ships her CV is of course absent the relevant educational and work experience for this particular field and thus none of her prospective employers take her seriously suspecting only that she must have stolen the plans she presents them!  She is then escorted from the room before exclaiming ‘I’m a fucking rocket scientist!’. This being a killing joke. I suspect it won’t be long – I am guessing episode 2! – before this particular power is traded in for something more useable.

The other female character is Alisha (played by Antonia Thomas) who previously had the power of sexual magnetism – very darkly as much a curse as a blessing. In this third series she now has the ability to see the world through another’s eyes – think the Bob Dylan song Positively Fourth Street and the lines “I wish that for just one time,You could stand inside my shoes, And just for that one moment I could be you” – yet another mixed-blessing power – I can think of many people who I might like to inhabit for a day or two but can think of many more who I would not want to occupy for even a second!

Misfits Curtis

Misfit Curtis

Fellow Misfit Curtis Donovan (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarret) has gone from time-bender to gender-bender. In the first series he could turn back time – which he usually did to save the butts of the collective Misfits – in this series he can shape-shift male to female – the tantalizing talent of transient transsexuality!

Final Misfit is Simon Bailey (played by Iwan Rheon) who is the default Misfit leader, even if this is not known to those he is leading – this because there are two of him – a Future version of himself physically and socially stronger than his current awkward self – who has knowledge of the Misfits as yet revealed purpose and destiny. He also had the power of invisibility – tsssk! what a traditional superpower! He being the only one of the Misfits who is content enough with his original powers not to one to  trade them in.

As noted unlike Alphas no agency whether government or private enterprise is aware let alone interested in making use of their collective powers. Neither are these misfits natural friends rather united in their common misfortune whereas otherwise would never be seen in each others company. This common misfortune as said being that they are all on community service. We might at least think with their new found powers that they might use it to break free from petty criminality but again by the end of the first episode of this new series they are re-arrested and back on probation!

It is clear that the first episode of the third series of Misfits is as much to establish the new Misfit Joe. What the rest of the series has in store for them I can but wonder but surely it must involve more than bumping of yet another of their probation officers, but maybe not.

Misfits is quite content for its Misfits to misstep from miserable mishap to miserable mishap. There is no grand goal in mind for these possessors of superpowers. Misfits has a dark humour, imaginative writing and continues to provide a platform for accomplished young British actors in the same way that Skins, Fresh Meat and The Inbetweeners do. I look forward the rest of this series irrespective of whether very much in particular gets resolved.

Alphas Anger Management

Rogue Alpha

The last episode I saw of Alphas was Anger Management which saw its team dealing with a rogue alpha who has the power to incite rage in those people who happen to be in his close proximity due to the huge release of pheromones – an unleashed rage so strong as to cause those afflicted to kill too. It so falls to the Alpha team to track down the culprit to prevent any more carnage and general human misery from occurring. In the process the alphas will get to know and understand each other a bit better and we the audience them.

And there lies the rub. I am not sure that I want to get to know the Alphas better whereas I am more than happy to spend time among the dystopias and dysfunction’s of the Misfits.

For science fiction shows like this to work we need to suspend not just our belief but our reason. Misfits accepts this and accepts that we the audience will do so too. Alphas though cannot accept this and the plots and characterizations sigh and sag as they strive to make us the audience take them seriously.

They should instead be getting on with telling their fantastical tales and letting the characters breathe and develop.

And this is what Misfits does so effortlessly, Alphas so ponderously.

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen Program LogoSuperior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen has just finished its first series on Channel 5.

The program starts by announcing that Kelly Hoppen is on a mission to tackle bad taste in homes all over the world. Transforming inferior interiors as she goes.

On the Channel 5 Program web-page she is described as ‘Britain’s first lady of design’ – another great quote and bold claim. I had never heard of Kelly Hoppen before this series aired but then again I am not a paid up subscriber to Home & Design and the like either so would be none-the-wiser if that was a claim that was wholly realistic or outrageously audacious! Each show also starts with some endorsements of Kelly Hoppen from those of the celebrity firmament – first up is athlete and now Dame, Kelly Holmes – I was then expecting more Kelly endorsements of Kelly such as from Rowland and Clarkson but alas I was disappointed on this score!

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen - Kelly Hoppen

Host Kelly Hoppen

She then goes on to say that she wants to show that good design and taste can be achieved with a small budget. I am sure it can. But not on the episode I watched at least where the client featured saw their final bill come close to £35,000 all told – nearly as much as I paid for my own home – I do not have any problem with TV shows about the homes of the rich and famous but let us not have then the ridiculous claim that this was home redesign on a shoestring budget.

The web-page goes on to describe her style has ‘minimalist but opulent’. A Phil Spector of interior design – that I like the sound of!

As well as keeping abreast with the show via the Channel 5 website Kelly Hoppen also has her own blog detailing her thoughts on the five part series and the various interior designs she was commissioned to undertake for each of the episodes. I like this idea. It would have been interesting to have had journal entries for the clients too alongside to compare and contrast!

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen with Clients

With clients

And then there is the casual matter of all of this commissioning and designing process taking place before television cameras and an audience of at the very worst hundreds of thousands and at best several millions – and that for the client however small or big the viewing figures will be they will almost certainly include your closest friends, work colleagues and your very extended family network. You will want to put on a show even if that should be the last thing on your mind.

And for the designer however well established they are in their professional practice such a series is not just an opportunity for their fifteen minutes plus of celebrity fame but a fantastic way to promote their brand and business and hopefully get at least a second series out of it along the way, if not a string of commissions arising.

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen - in client's home

In client’s home

And how then might they achieve this? How should Kelly Hoppen play it? Should she play it safe with unobtrusive small c conservative wares. Or instead go for the flamboyant and attention grabbing. As there is always the real risk that they will abandon their client and their wishes altogether in favour of appealing to the wider TV audience. It is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for Reality Based TV – the very act of observing real people going about their lives is a guarantee that the last thing we will see is real people going about their lives!

Would this be the case with the Drewitt Barlows? This the family whose own Chelmsford home interiors featured in the final episode of this series and which aired Tuesday November 1. The Drewitt Barlows are husband and husband and parents of one daughter and four sons.

Though there are seven of them in their household the interior décor is very much the work of just one of them, the father Barry, whose taste is gaudy or at best flamboyant depending on, well, whether your own taste is flamboyant or gaudy. Put it this way this is a man who likes ornaments, really really really likes ornaments!

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen - client bedroom

Saffron’s bedroom before Kelly

Despite saying that Kelly Hoppen has complete free reign to redesign his daughter’s bedroom the father Barry cannot help himself and interfere – sorry intervene – wanting at least some of Saffron’s bedroom to stay as it is, some testament to remain of his own tastes. Kelly Hoppen is focused on what Saffron wants, and will have to ensure that Barry does not get what he wants. And so sets up the episode.

Kelly is ultimately an autocrat not a democrat of design and she will get her way – eventually.

At first Barry is insistent that the redesigned bedroom should include an en-suite bathroom. Kelly Hoppen manages to repel that idea. Then he becomes set on a purple sofa as a centre-piece for his daughter’s bedroom. On seeing this for the first time via a photograph on her laptop she describes it initially as ‘like a pair of lips’ then after a few seconds further reflection ‘as like a woman’s lady parts’! Needless to say this sofa goes the same way as the bathroom.

Superior Interiors with Kelly Hoppen - client bedroom after

Saffron’s bedroom – after Kelly

As indeed all that Kelly Hoppen and Saffron wants comes to fruition and the only concessions to the father’s wishes are to the other father Tony and his more subtle taste.

And so we leave the Drewitt Barlow’s but as the camera’s pan away there is always the suspicion that when they and Kelly Hoppen are long gone that father Barry will be back in his daughter’s bedroom suggesting if not insisting on some of his own design ideas being reapplied. And can we expect his daughter to be as resistant to him as Kelly Hoppen is?!

Were the Channel 5 camera’s and production crew to visit a year from now would we see the design ideas of Kelly Hoppen pervading the rest of their home or discover that father Barry’s taste has re-established itself upon his daughter’s bedroom?! Such is reality TV on and off camera…

In my previous post about this show’s credit sequence I stated that I thought there must be a sweet-spot for an Interior Designer somewhere between Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen and Ann Maurice. Kelly Hoppen is certainly nearer to Bowen than Maurice but not too close. She may well indeed be this interior designer sweet spot.

Him & Her – The Sleepover

Him & Her The Sleepover EpisodeHim & Her is back on BBC 3. And fans of this bedsit comedy will be glad to hear that very little has changed, indeed almost certainly nothing has changed.

Imagine The Royle Family if Craig Cash’s Dave Best and Caroline Aherne’s Denise Best had left the Royle family home to set up in their own bedsit. Or Ideal without the blood and guts. Or what Mike Leigh would have directed had he gone into TV sit-coms rather than really real realist cinema

And like the Royle Family the outside world is only ever implied, never ventured. And also like the Royle Family this too is no blissful tale of domesticity. The Him and Her characters are more Terry and Julie than Terry and June.

Him & Her is from Big Talk Productions who have established a creative pedigree producing both films (Scott Pilgrim Versus the World and Hot Fuzz among others) and TV – on their current roster alongside Him & Her are Friday Night Dinner, Free Agent and Chickens. Past productions have included the seminal Black Books and Spaced.

Him & Her Big Talk ProductionsHim & Her is written by Stefan Golaszewski a relative newcomer to TV comedy writing – he did write and star in the 2009 comedy series The Cowards. He studied at Cambridge University and is one of a new generation of Cambridge Footlights (University Dramatic Club). The Cowards started life on the web before moving to radio and then TV. The show was critically acclaimed – it was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA – though I have to confess it escaped my goggle-eyed attention.

His Him & Her creation has lasted longer at least than The Cowards back as it is for a second series.

Him is Steve played by Russell Tovey (who has a large TV CV but most likely if you do know him of late it will be as George in Being Human). Her is Becky played by Sarah Solemani (of Psychoville Emily fame among other parts).

I said that Him and Her is a bit like Royle Family but whereas that tended to be based in the lounge with occasional forays to the kitchen for a Cuppa and choccy biscuit, Him & Her is as likely to see Steve and Becky in the bathroom as any room. And if you think this might be Steve shaving or Becky blow-drying her hair then think again. Think toilet seat up, think toilet seat down – I will say no more.

Him & Her Becky & Steve

Her and Him

Though we never see Steve and Becky leave their bedsit they are never usually left alone for long.

In the most recent episode ‘The Sleepover’ they are visited by Becky’s sister and the sister’s fiancée along with their mother Shelly. Later their neighbour Dan appears.

The Sleepover sees Shelly, played by Camille Coduri, crashed-out on the kitchen floor, whilst the remainder of the uninvited company are readying for shut-eye in the bedroom/living area – the uninvited all being drunk and having missed the last night-bus home.

Steve and Becky allowing them to stayover despite themselves having a ‘big-day the following day and needing to be up early’.  At first I assumed that as the couple were both unemployed that perhaps one of them had a job-interview however we later discover they have rather bought a DVD box-set of the latest series of 24 and want to watch the whole of it in 24 hours! I confess this is something I have done once too and suspect am not alone in doing so?

The Sleepover episode opens with Steve and Becky debating who should retrieve a soaked toilet-roll dropped into the toilet bowl. This is not an unusual scene in Him & Her, rather all too usual! Seconds later Steve is urinating and Becky asks him if he wants any water to drink to which follows his reply another variation on men not being nature’s multi-taskers!

I can’t wee and talk at the same time!

Him & Her The Sleepover Laura

Becky’s sister Laura

Much of the remaining half-hour is spent watching them all trying to get to sleep – in real-time! This they fail to do as sister Laura (played by Kerry Howard) in particular cannot shut up having to share anything on her mind no matter how mundane.

Later they are joined by neighbour Dan (played by Joe Wilkinson) who has first been dumped by his girlfriend, then mugged and hit on the head with a brick and cannot bare the thought of facing his own flat alone.

This pretty much is the story-line, the importance of being idle. Him & Her is comfortable in being boring – Steve and Becky are at ease with their humdrum existence, and the show itself is untroubled by its own banality. It bravely hopes we the viewers will be happy to twiddle our collective thumbs whilst watching its thirty odd meandering minutes and won’t at any point be inclined to reach for the remote.

In one scene where Becky does an impression of Steve’s mother he counters with his impression of her mother which is basically just an opportunity for a character assassination.

‘I’m a silly little bitch, and my husband basically walks all over me, and I’ve got a shit sense of humour and I go to church’!

Him & HerLater we see Steve grumbling to himself in bed with Becky that the zip on their duvet is in his face.

Another conversation follows around ghost-believing Becky and ghost-disbelieving Steve ending with Becky saying:

‘I’ve got a sixth sense for it. All the normal five senses, seeing, hearing, thinking (!) and touch. But I’ve also got ghosts’!

Later Steve discovers from Laura that her mother does not like him leading him to comment ‘that he has never had anyone dislike him before’. Alas and inevitably for him this invites a long list from Laura, her boyfriend Paul (played by Ricky Champ) and Becky herself of people who do not like him!

The Sleepover episode ends with Laura and Paul absconding Steve and Becky’s bed while they had popped out to the kitchen only for Laura to offer the remaining bed-space to her sister Becky saying it will be ‘like when we were children’ leaving Steve evicted from his own bed. Just how is he supposed to be wide awake for twenty-four hours of Jack Bauer if he can’t sleep upon his own mattress the night before!

And reader not once did I even think to reach for my remote.

Him & Her Title Credit